Alaska Airlines maintenance probe extended to Seattle

Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) -- An FBI investigation of Alaska Airlines maintenance practices in Oakland, Calif., has been expanded to the company's base at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Wednesday.

A San Francisco-based FBI agent, a top investigator for a grand jury probe of maintenance records in Oakland, interviewed Seattle-area Alaska mechanics Tuesday, the P-I reported. The investigation was recently expanded to include circumstances surrounding the crash of Alaska Flight 261 on Jan. 31.

The investigation dates back to at least December 1998, when FBI agents seized records in Oakland and Sea-Tac. Since then, the probe and questioning of mechanics has been largely limited to California.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Greg Witter said Tuesday said he did not know about the FBI's presence in Seattle.

''We're cooperating fully with every federal agency and official, involving everything and anything having to do with the Flight 261 tragedy or the 1 1/2-year-old investigation of our Oakland facility,'' Witter said.

Speaking on condition that he not be identified, a mechanic at the Sea-Tac maintenance hangar said he was interviewed for more than two hours Tuesday by an FBI agent on such topics as ''the deterioration of maintenance'' practices. Alaska Airlines has lost experienced mechanics, and those who remain are fighting pressure to cut corners on repairs, he said.

''Everything we talked about was relevant to the crash,'' the mechanic said.

He added that he had no first-hand knowledge of work on the MD-80 that crashed off the California coast, killing all 88 people on board.

Meanwhile, a 15-member Federal Aviation Administration team began a so-called ''white glove'' inspection of Alaska Airlines operations at Sea-Tac and Oakland last week, reviewing maintenance, paperwork procedures and other practices.

The FAA has proposed a $44,000 fine against Alaska and revocation of the mechanic's licenses of three maintenance supervisors in Oakland.

Last month 64 of the company's mechanics at Sea-Tac accused their manager of forcing them to cut corners, saying in a letter to company headquarters that they were told to put unserviceable parts back on planes.

Ordering or performing such action could constitute criminal violation of aviation regulations.

The company placed the manager, who denied any wrongdoing, on paid leave pending an internal investigation. Airline officials said they interviewed all 64 mechanics and found none could cite a case in which an unsafe plane was put into service.

The Oakland operation does much of the fleet's maintenance work, including the last ''heavy check'' of the aircraft that crashed.

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