Report: Oakland-based jet plagued with hydraulic difficulties

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- An Alaska Airlines jet found to have incomplete maintenance records reported hydraulic problems on four separate flights, in some cases forcing passengers to evacuate, according to Federal Aviation Administration records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

In three 1995 cases, crew members reported identical problems with the hydraulic line to the left engine of the MD-80, tail number N932AS. In each case, mechanics reported replacing the hydraulic line and servicing the hydraulic system, The Chronicle reported Thursday, citing FAA records.

The records also show that mechanics reported fixing a variety of other mechanical problems since the plane was acquired by Alaska in 1985.

The plane's records have come under review after a special FAA inspection of the airline this month found that the aircraft was prematurely cleared for a test flight in Oakland despite unspecified irregularities with its paperwork.

The special FAA ''white glove'' audit of the airline, which came in response to the January crash of Alaska Flight 261 off California's southern coast, also found that records for a Boeing 737 in Seattle were missing a required second signature.

The disclosures come as Alaska's maintenance facility in Oakland remains under investigation by a federal grand jury over allegations that mechanics there falsified records. Since 1998, FBI agents have seized records for 11 MD-80s that have been serviced at the hangar.

The plane remains in service, as well as the 11 MD-80s for which records are under grand jury review.

Alaska spokesman Greg Witter said that all of the carrier's 89 planes are safe, even as the airline, in response to the audit, continues to inspect the records of most of its fleet.

''We believe we have the finest mechanics in the industry who maintain our fleet in tiptop condition,'' Witter said.

Records for the Flight 261 jet were not under grand jury review. But the crash, which killed all 88 people on board, remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI and the Department of Transportation's inspector general.

The probe has focused on the possible failure of the jackscrew, a key part of the plane's horizontal stabilizer. FAA records show the horizontal stabilizer was the subject of a repair on the plane in November 1998. Corrosion was found on part of the stabilizer, and the part was replaced, records show.

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