SEATTLE (AP) -- Alaska Airlines plans to fire two pilots for continuing a flight after the emergency oxygen system activated shortly after takeoff, an airline spokesman said Tuesday.
The action by the pilots left about half the passengers without an emergency oxygen source and could have caused death or brain damage if the aircraft had lost pressure during the high-altitude portion of the March 25 flight, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector has said.
The airline notified the pilots, Capt. Michael Alan Reese, 56, of Long Beach, Calif., and First Officer Vincent Emile Danet, 38, of San Diego, Calif., of its intent to terminate them, Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans said.
Tuesday's action will result in a final action within the next 30 to 45 days, the airline said in a statement.
The pilots were en route back to California and were not immediately available for comment, Tara Elkins, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association in Seattle, said Tuesday afternoon.
Both intend to request a hearing at which they will be able to present their case, Elkins said. The pilots association is representing them.
Reese and Danet have been on paid administrative leave since Flight 506 arrived safely at San Jose, Calif., from Portland, Ore. Aboard the new Boeing 737-700 were three flight attendants and 92 passengers.
The FAA, which is conducting its own investigation, was not involved in Tuesday's meeting involving the pilots and the airline's chief pilot.
''It could take weeks to months for any enforcement action to be complete,'' said FAA regional spokeswoman Kirsti Dunn.
The airline's investigation was based on interviews with the pilots themselves, with airline ground personnel and with passengers, Evans said.
The pilots apparently failed to flip switches properly to pressurize the cabin, according to FAA inspector Dennis Overman. After oxygen masks popped out of the ceiling as the plane rose above 14,000 feet, the pilots got the cabin pressurized and resumed their ascent to 41,000 feet.
Passengers who pulled the masks down to put them on triggered the release of oxygen from canisters. Tests after the plane landed showed about half the canisters had been depleted, while the cabin air supply and pressurization systems were found to be in good working order, Overman wrote.
Overman had recommended a six-month suspension of the pilots' licenses for flying an unworthy aircraft, careless and reckless flying, continuing a flight in unsafe conditions and failing to assure the availability of emergency oxygen for all passengers.
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