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Wednesday, 26 February 2014 03:57

Days after Asiana plane crash, families neglected

   LOS ANGELES (AP) — When anguished family members first called for information about their loved ones aboard a wrecked Asiana Airlines plane, instead of getting answers they had to navigate an automated reservation system.
   Even once Asiana finally set up a proper hotline, it would be five days before the South Korean airline connected with the families of all 291 passengers.
   Asiana's response to the deadly crash last summer near San Francisco earned quick criticism for its disarray. On Tuesday, it also earned a $500,000 penalty from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
   It's the first time federal officials have concluded that an airline broke laws requiring prompt and generous assistance for the loved ones of crash victims.
   Three people died and dozens were injured July 6 when Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall while landing at San Francisco International Airport. One of the victims, a 16 year old girl, apparently survived being ejected onto the tarmac, only to be run over by a fire truck.
   Many families live in South Korea or China, meaning the airline was their main source of information on the crash half a world away.
   "The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a prepared statement.
   Under a consent order the airline signed with the department, Asiana will pay a $400,000 fine and get a $100,000 credit for sponsoring conferences and training sessions through 2015 to discuss lessons learned from the situation.
   In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Asiana spokeswoman Hyomin Lee said the airline "provided extensive support to the passengers and their families following the accident and will continue to do so."
   Asiana said in the consent order that its response was slowed because the crash occurred on a holiday weekend when staffing was short. The airline said it was not alone among foreign airlines with "few trained employees to attend to post-accident responsibilities."
   Asiana argued that it recovered quickly, noting that within a few days of the crash it had assigned a special representative to each passenger and family, flown in family members from overseas and provided professional crisis counseling.
   The consent order also laid out findings from the Department of Transportation's investigation. Among them:
   — Asiana generally "failed to commit sufficient resources" to help families; it wasn't until five days after the crash that its employees were meeting all responsibilities under U.S. law. The airline lacked translators and personnel trained in crash response.
   — It took Asiana more than 18 hours to staff a reliable toll-free hotline.
   — The law requires family notification as soon as practical, but Asiana had contacted just three-quarters of families within two days. It would take five days to contact every family.
   Congress required carriers to dedicate significant resources to families of passengers in the late 1990s, after airlines were roundly criticized for ignoring desperate requests for information after crashes.
   Last fall, the AP reviewed plans filed by two dozen foreign airlines and found cases in which carriers had not updated their family assistance plans as required.
   Since AP's story, several airlines have updated their plans with the Department of Transportation. Among them is Asiana's bigger rival, Korean Air.
   Many airlines invest in crash preparedness and family assistance planning, but a minority are "using lip service and euphemisms in their plans," said Robert A. Jensen, whose company has contracts with hundreds of airlines to help after an accident.
   "It's time that some of the airlines that have been flying under the radar be held accountable," said Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International Emergency Services. "Somebody finally got caught."
   The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash. Family members of some passengers have sued the airline in federal court.
Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators say Southwest Airlines pilots who recently landed at the wrong airport in Missouri have told them they were confused by the small airport's runway lights.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Friday the pilots of the Boeing 737 with 124 passengers on board told investigators they saw the bright runway lights of Graham Clark Downtown Airport, located in Hollister and mistakenly identified it as the larger Branson Airport, which is seven miles away.

NTSB said the pilots contacted the Branson control tower and were told they were 15 miles from their target. But the pilots responded they had the runway in sight. They were cleared to land.

The Downtown Airport runway is half as long as the Branson runway. The runways are oriented in a similar direction.

Published in Local News

   The NTSB and FAA are investigating a plane crash in Puerto Rico that killed a St. Louis native.

   Monday night, 28 year old Steven Gullberg II and his co-pilot were killed when the cargo plane they were flying crashed along Puerto Rico's north coast.  Authorities say the plane had been en route from the Dominican Republic when it descended rapidly over the mountains.  

   Gullberg was a Hazlewood Central High School graduate.  

   For the past three months Gullberg had worked for Fort Lauderdale based IBC Airways.  Gullberg's family says he had expressed concerns about problems with the maintenance of the company's planes, even questioning their safety.  

Published in Local News
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 03:37

Lawyer: NY Engineer had 'daze' before train crash

   YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) — An engineer whose speeding commuter train ran off the rails along a curve, killing four people, experienced a hypnotic-like "daze" and nodded at the controls before suddenly realizing something was wrong and hitting the brakes, a lawyer said.

   Attorney Jeffrey Chartier accompanied engineer William Rockefeller to his interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators Tuesday and described the account Rockefeller gave. Chartier said the engineer experienced a nod or "a daze," almost like road fatigue or the phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis. He couldn't say how long it lasted.

   What Rockefeller remembers is "operating the train, coming to a section where the track was still clear — then, all of a sudden, feeling something was wrong and hitting the brakes," Chartier said. "... He felt something was not right, and he hit the brakes."

   He called Rockefeller "a guy with a stellar record who, I believe, did nothing wrong."

   "You've got a good guy and an accident," he said. "... A terrible accident is what it is."

   Rockefeller "basically nodded," said Anthony Bottalico, leader of the rail employees union, relating what he said the engineer told him.

   "He had the equivalent of what we all have when we drive a car," Bottalico said. "That is, you sometimes have a momentary nod or whatever that might be."

   NTSB member Earl Weener said it was too soon to say whether the accident was caused by human error. But he said investigators have found no problems with the train's brakes or rail signals.

   Alcohol tests on the train's crew members were negative, and investigators were awaiting the results of drug tests, the NTSB said.

   Federal investigators wouldn't comment on Rockefeller's level of alertness around the time of the Sunday morning wreck in the Bronx. They said late Tuesday they had removed Bottalico's union, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, as a participant in the investigation over a breach of confidentiality after he publicly discussed information related to it.

   Two law enforcement officials said the engineer told police at the scene that his mind was wandering before he realized the train was in trouble and by then it was too late to do anything about it. One of the officials said Rockefeller described himself as being "in a daze" before the wreck.

   The officials, who were briefed on the engineer's comments, weren't authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

   Questions about Rockefeller's role mounted rapidly after investigators disclosed on Monday that the Metro-North Railroad commuter train jumped the tracks after going into a curve at 82 mph, or nearly three times the 30 mph speed limit.

   Rockefeller, 46, has worked for the railroad for 15 years and has been an engineer for 10, Weener said. He lives in Germantown, 40 miles south of Albany.

   On the day of the crash, Rockefeller was on the second day of a five-day work week, reporting at 5:04 a.m. after a typical nine-hour shift the day before, Weener said.

   "There's every indication that he would have had time to get full restorative sleep," he said.

   Weener didn't address specifically what the engineer was doing in the hours before his shift started but said part of the investigation will be creating a 72-hour timeline of his activities.

   Chartier said Rockefeller had gotten "a proper amount of sleep," having gone to bed at 8:30 the previous night to wake up at 3:30 a.m. for his shift. He said Rockefeller, before going to bed, had been spending time at home.

   Rockefeller had begun running that route on Nov. 17, two weeks before the wreck. Bottalico said Rockefeller was familiar with the route and qualified to run it.

   He said Rockefeller had switched just weeks earlier from the night shift to the day shift, "so he did have a change in his hours and his circadian rhythms with regard to sleep."

   The New York Police Department is conducting its own investigation, with help from the Bronx district attorney's office, in the event the derailment becomes a criminal case.

   Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday the engineer could be faulted for the train's speed if nothing else.

   "Certainly, we want to make sure that that operator is disciplined in an appropriate way," he said. "There's such a gross deviation from the norm."

   A former supervisor, Michael McLendon, who retired from the railroad about a year ago, called Rockefeller "a stellar employee."

   McLendon said he was stunned when he heard about the crash, shortly after opening his mail to find a Christmas card from Rockefeller and his wife.

   "I said, 'Well, I can't imagine Billy making a mistake,'" McLendon said. "Not intentionally, by any stretch of the imagination."

   University of Dayton professor Steven Harrod, who studies transportation, said trains typically don't have a speed or cruise control but a power control, and once it's set a train can pick up speed on its own because of the terrain.

   "Thus, if the engineer loses attention, the train can gain speed without intervention," Harrod said.

   In case of an engineer becoming incapacitated, the train's front car was equipped with a dead man's pedal, which must be depressed or the train will automatically slow down.

   Trains also can have alarms, sometimes called alerters, which sound if the operators' controls haven't been moved within a certain timeframe. If an engineer doesn't respond, often by pressing a button, brakes automatically operate. But the train that derailed didn't have such a system, a Metro-North spokeswoman said.

   Congress has ordered commuter and freight railroads to install technology called positive train control, which uses electronics to monitor trains' positions and speed and stop derailments and other problems, by the end of 2015.

   Crews are rebuilding the damaged track where Rockefeller's train crashed. Officials expect 98 percent of service to be restored to the affected line Wednesday, Cuomo said.

Published in National News
Monday, 02 December 2013 05:51

Probe seeks cause of fatal NYC train crash

   NEW YORK (AP) — Metro-North officials say the locomotive of the commuter train that derailed in New York City, killing four people, has been righted.

   Spokesman Aaron Donovan says cranes re-railed the engine at 4:20 a.m. Monday.

   Two cranes are in place to lift the rest of the derailed cars pending approval from the National Transportation and Safety Board.

   Donovan says about 150 people were on board when the train derailed Sunday morning while rounding a riverside curve in the Bronx. More than 60 were injured.

   Donovan says all passengers have been accounted for.

   The accident occurred on the Hudson line, which carries 26,000 weekday riders. Federal authorities are embarking on an exhaustive investigation into what caused the derailment.

Published in National News

   Mount Vernon, WA (ABC) - Three people were sent to the hospital after a portion of an Interstate 5 highway bridge in Mount Vernon, Wash., collapsed Thursday, dumping three vehicles into the water.

   Two people rescued from the water were suffering from hypothermia, police said. Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, Wash., was expecting two patients taken from the accident, according to Kari Ranten, a spokeswoman. She believed the third patient was transported to another hospital.

   Officials were looking into reports of an over-sized load "immediately" causing the collapse, said Travis Phelps of the Washington State Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol.

   "We're looking at the cause being an over-sized, over-height vehicle, striking critical portions of this bridge, causing it to collapse," he said.

   The National Transportation Safety Board said they will send a team to investigate the collapse.

   The collapse occurred on the portion of Interstate 5 over the Skagit River, about two hours north of Seattle.

   "N/B and S/B lanes of I-5 Skagit River Bridge collapsed," Washington State Trooper Mark Francis posted on Twitter. "People and cars in water."

   The collapse occurred around 7 p.m. local time and the portion of the bridge that collapsed was four lanes wide, The Associated Press reported. The vehicles plunged about 40 feet from the bridge into the river and that set off a massive rescue operation.

   A damaged red car and a damaged pickup truck were visible in the water. Helicopter footage from ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV showed several rescue boats in the Skagit River with several ambulances waiting on the shore.

   Xavier Grospe, 62, who lives near the river, told The Associated Press he could see three cars partially submerged in the water with what appeared to be one person per vehicle, with drivers on top of vehicles or sitting on open window openings.

   "It doesn't look like anybody's in danger right now," Grospe said.

   The bridge was built in 1955, according to the AP, citing federal records.

   Clean up efforts will take several days to weeks, according to Phelps. The bridge sees 77,000 cars per day, and Phelps said they are expecting significant congestion until the bridge is fixed.

   "We inspect our bridge every two years. We're not going to let anybody drive on a bridge that is deemed unsafe," Phelps said.

   The bridge was last inspected in November 2012 and deemed safe, Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Treece told ABC News.

Published in National News

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