American Airlines is fined $15,000 after mother of three died when she was sucked into plane engine – despite NTSB blaming HER for getting too close after warnings
- The victim was 34-year-old Piedmont Airlines worker Courtney Edwards
- Piedmont, a subsidiary of American Airlines, was fined a maximum $15,625
- The OSHA fine is in conflict with an NTSB report that largely blamed Edwards
An American Airlines subsidiary is facing a $15,000 fine after an airline worker died when she was so violently ‘ingested’ into the engine of a landed plane it shook the entire aircraft.
OSHA’s findings come into direct conflict with the initial report from the National Transport Safety Board which largely blamed Edwards, stating she was killed after getting too close to the engine of an American Eagle-operated Embraer E175 jet.
The tragedy occurred on New Year’s Eve at Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama. The victim was later identified as 34-year-old Courtney Edwards, who worked as a ground agent for Piedmont Airlines.
An Occupational Safety and Hazard Association report is fining Piedmont an initial penalty of $15,625, the maximum under the law.
They claimed the airline did not furnish ‘a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees that were exposed to ingestion and jet blast hazards.’
OSHA also charges Piedmont with lacking effective training, a lack of effective communication and unclear instructions from supervisors, all contributing to Edwards’ ‘preventable’ death.
The Communications Workers of America, Edwards’ union, said in a statement that ‘it is likely Piedmont will contest the decision, but CWA will continue to fight for Courtney Edwards, her family, and the safety of all airline workers, who should never fear for their lives on the job.’
The airline has 15 business days to comply with or contest the fine, which was officially issued on June 7.
‘Safety is always our top priority for our team members,’ Crystal Byrd, a spokesperson at Piedmont Airlines told the Dallas Morning News.
‘We appreciate the recommendations from OSHA and will ensure that a thorough review is accomplished.’
The initial report, however, notes that Edwards failed to heed multiple warnings to stay back from the engines while the plane was shutting down.
The 59 passengers on board the flight from Dallas and four crew members were not injured.
Edwards is survived by her three children and her mother, according to a GoFundMe page that has been set up to help her family financially. At the time or writing, the campaign has raised close to $120,000.
According to the report, upon landing, the captain began the process of shutting down the engines before receiving a warning that the plane’s front cargo door was open.
The co-pilot alerted workers on the ground to let them know the engines were still on.
One section of the report reads: ‘Immediately thereafter, he saw a warning light illuminate and the airplane shook violently followed by the immediate automatic shutdown of the number 1 engine.
‘Unsure of what had occurred, he extinguished the emergency lights and shut off both batteries before leaving the flight deck to investigate’.
The report says there is video that shows Edwards walking in front of the first engine on the left of the plane. It reads: ‘She was subsequently pulled off her feet and into the operating engine.’
One of Edwards’ colleagues told investigators he saw her ‘almost fall over from the engine’s exhaust while he attempted to alert her to stay back and wait for the engines to be shut down’.
Another said he attempted to warn her that the engine was still on, and as he was in the process of doing this he heard a ‘bang’.
The ground crew said they had two meetings about safety prior to the plane landing and all members knew the engines would remain on until ground power was connected as the plane does not have auxiliary power.
One member of the crew said it was ‘discussed that the airplane should not be approached’.
The report says the surveillance video shows a violation of protocol in which Edwards did not keep at a safe distance until the airplane’s rotating beacon light shut off.
It reads: ‘Throughout the course of the accident, the airplane’s upper rotating beacon light appeared to be illuminated’.
The report cites the American Eagle Ground Operations Manual which tells workers not to approach the front of a running jet engine and to keep a safe distance of at least 15 feet, known as the ‘ingestion zone.’
The manual says: ‘Jet engines spin with powerful speed and are extremely dangerous until spooled down. The area in front of the engine is called the ingestion zone. The ingestion zone for all aircraft types is 15 feet. You must never enter the ingestion zone until the engine has spooled down.’
It’s not clear when the full and final report will be published.
Speaking about Edwards’ death, a co-worker Divonta Palmer, told WSFA: ‘I can’t wrap my mind around how did this happen. She would tell me that she was always dedicated and motivated to do the best job and put the best foot forward.’
Palmer also said the incident should act as a wake-up call for ground crews regarding safety.
The GoFundMe page was set up for Edwards by local union rep, Donielle Prophete. On the fundraising page, Prophete wrote: ‘Please know that this tragedy has and will affect her mother, family, friends and kids for years to come.’
Edwards was from the town of Niceville, Florida, close to the border with Alabama. She moved to Alabama in 2013.
According to Popular Mechanics, there have been 33 reports of people being ingested by Boeing engines over the last forty years. The website referred to death by ingestion as ‘uncommon’ but not ‘unprecedented.’