FAA making changes in wake of '99 crash

Sunday, October 12, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt said Saturday he was satisfied the Federal Aviation Administration was making changes to address concerns raised following a December 1999 plane crash that killed six people in southwest Missouri.

Blunt, R-Mo., also said the two Kansas City FAA officials who were accused of harassing pilot Joe Brinell -- behavior that authorities said may have contributed to the fatal plane crash -- have been disciplined.

Still, Blunt acknowledged that peace likely will never come for the families of those who died Dec. 9, 1999, when the Cessna Citation plunged into a wooded hillside five miles from the College of the Ozarks' airport at Point Lookout in mist and fog.

"They'll never be fully assured as to all of the facts that led to the accident itself," Blunt said before departing Springfield-Branson Regional Airport for Washington. "Airplane accidents in their own way often don't leave a lot of information about what happened in the moments before the accident, or certainly the state of mind of everybody on board."

Blunt has doggedly pushed the government to investigate actions by the FAA's Kansas City Flight Standards District Office. As a result, Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead determined in a January report that the FAA abused its regulatory power and "induced stress" on Brinell, who was aviation director at the College of the Ozarks.

Mead also cited "troubling inconsistencies" in the FAA's internal investigation into how the agency treated Brinell. He called on the FAA to adopt new procedures for inspecting license holders.

Blunt said the FAA has since agreed to make three operational changes that include:

Implementing training for personnel to reinforce a strict code of professionalism among inspectors;

Beginning a customer service initiative to clearly establish what the public can expect from the FAA, as well as clearly defining pilots' rights when they disagree with the agency decisions;

Improving the process, documentation and record retention for investigations, and establishing a process for an independent, third-party review for complaints about FAA investigations.

FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said Saturday that the Flight Standards District Office was still working to implement all the policies.

The FAA has changed the job titles of the two men who scrutinized Brinell, but both are appealing the action, Molinaro said. Neither has been publicly identified.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled pilot stress, fatigue, rainy weather and poor visibility contributed to the crash.

Grace Brinell told investigators her husband was distressed by what he perceived as FAA harassment after he responded to enforcement actions by the Flight Standards District Office against one of the College of the Ozarks' mechanics and its aircraft repair station.

In subsequent months, the agency said a review of maintenance records had prompted the FAA to re-examine Brinell's competency. The district office abandoned the effort after Brinell appealed to FAA regional headquarters in Kansas City.

Two weeks before the accident, district officials asked for Brinell's pilot logbooks, saying they thought he had administered flight tests without appropriate authorization.

Also killed in the crash were student pilot Bart Moore, 22; Marvin Oetting, 61, the school's chairman of technical and applied sciences, and his wife, Judy, 59; Jerry Watson, 55, a professor, and his wife, Pat, 55.

On the Net

FAA: www1.faa.gov

Rep. Roy Blunt: www.blunt.house.gov

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