FAA investigates safety complaint

Mechanics raise questions related to Alaska Airlines crash that killed 88 in 2000

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2005

SEATTLE - The Federal Aviation Administration plans to investigate safety complaints by three Alaska Airlines mechanics relating to the lubrication of a part on an MD-83 jet - the same part that failed and caused the crash of Alaska Flight 261 in 2000, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.

The mechanics were working Jan. 10 in Seattle when they said they found no grease on the jackscrew, a crucial part responsible for moving the stabilizer, the winglike structure on the jet's tail.

The part showed no signs of excessive wear, and after it was lubricated they returned the plane to service. But they were concerned because federal officials determined that poor maintenance practices, lack of lubrication and excessive wear led to the catastrophic failure of the jackscrew during Flight 261, which killed all 88 people aboard when the Boeing MD-83 crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Southern California in January 2000.

Shortly after the crash, the FAA issued an emergency directive ordering more frequent lubrications of jackscrews.

Maintenance records indicated that the MD-83's jackscrew was lubricated during a check at an Oklahoma City facility, AAR Aircraft Services, on Nov. 3, 2004. But reports from the three mechanics said it appeared that never took place.

AAR is one of two outside repair stations used by Alaska since it began outsourcing major maintenance work late last year to save money. The airline closed down its heavy-maintenance base in Oakland, Calif., cutting several hundred jobs. AAR insisted the work was performed properly.

In one statement, mechanic Larry Reed, an inspector, wrote that he found "no evidence of lubricant" on the jackscrew, including the gimbal nut and the upper and lower fittings of the assembly.

"It is my belief based on my experience of previously performing this inspection ... that this jackscrew was not lubed at the last inspection interval on November 3, 2004," Reed wrote.

Mechanic Jeff Shira, who was assigned to lubricate the jackscrew, wrote that it was "extremely dry, like it never got lubed" during the November check.

Shira wrote the jackscrew should be "thoroughly coated in Mobil 28 grease."

The third mechanic, Herbert Johnson, wrote that while assisting Shira, he found "no apparent grease on the shaft or above and below the gimbal nut." He stated he found only "black residue" on the shaft.

Their statements were obtained by The Times through another party. Alaska declined to let the newspaper interview the mechanics, and spokeswoman Caroline Boren said the airline found no evidence to support the mechanics' account of the Jan. 10 incident or of a second incident reported last week by one of the same mechanics.

AAR spokesman Chris Mason told The Times that the company's work on the jackscrew "was performed, inspected and approved in accordance with FAA and manufacturers' approved procedures by FAA-certified technicians and inspectors," he said, adding the agency recognized AAR in June for outstanding training.

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