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Another Airport Worker ‘Ingested’ into Plane Engine in Apparent Suicide

29 Jun, 2023 Liz Carey

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San Antonio, Texas ( – For the second time this year, an airline worker has died in a plane’s engine, officials said Friday, with the most recent incident coming as the result of a suicide.

At the San Antonio International Airport, a Delta flight coming in from Los Angeles was taxiing to a gate using only one engine when “a worker was ingested into that engine about 10:25 p.m.,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a statement.

Officials are still investigating the accident, and officials with the airport are working with authorities to determine what happened, a spokesperson with the airport said.

“An accident occurred on the ground at San Antonio International Airport (SAT) Friday night that resulted in the fatality of an airline ground crew member,” airport spokesperson Erin Rodriguez said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this incident and are working with authorities as they begin their investigation. We will share more information as details become available.”

Delta Air Lines said it was “grieving” over the incident.

“We are heartbroken and grieving the loss of an aviation family member’s life in San Antonio. Our hearts and full support are with their family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” a Delta spokesperson said in a statement.

The employee, who was not identified, was employed by Unifi Aviation, which provides services at the San Antonio airport.

“Our hearts go out to the family of the deceased, and we remain focused on supporting our employees on the ground and ensuring they are being taken care of during this time,” the company said in a statement. “From our initial investigation, this incident was unrelated to Unifi’s operational processes, safety procedures and policies. Out of respect for the deceased, we will not be sharing any additional information. While police and other officials continue to investigate this incident, we defer to them on providing further details.”

The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death as blunt and sharp force injuries, and listed the manner of death as suicide, according to multiple news reports. Following the announcement, the NTSB said there were no operational safety issues with the airplane or at the airport.

The incident comes just months after another airport worker died when they were also ingested into the engine of an airplane.

On New Year’s Eve, Courtney Edwards, 34, was working for Envoy Air, a regional subsidiary of Piedmont Airlines, as a ground agent at the Montgomery Regional Airport when she died in what OSHA said was a “preventable” death.

According to an NTSB, the airline’s ground crew conducted a “safety huddle” about the incoming plane, including instructions on how to move around it. The ground crew had another briefing about 10 minutes before the plane landed. During that meeting, the crew was told not to approach the plane or to set safety cones out until the engines were fully off.

However, since the plane’s auxiliary power was not working, the pilots decided not to turn all of the engines off until they could connect it to a power source. Once the pilots informed the airport about their decision, they pulled into the gate, and the co-pilot opened the plane’s window to inform the ground crew of their decision.

However, immediately after that, the first officer said, a warning light came on and the plane shook violently as the engine shut down. Officials said that was the moment Edwards was sucked into the engine.

Officials said Edwards was not only told to stay away from the engine by a co-worker, but was warned by another ground worker to not put the safety cones out yet. As Edwards disappeared from her co-workers’ view, the other ground crew members said they heard a loud bang and heard the engine shut off.

After an investigation, OSHA fined Piedmont Airlines $15,625 for safety breaches it said led to Edwards’ death. OSHA found Piedmont lacked effective training, as well as lacking clear and unambiguous communication on the ramp, and clear instructions for supervisors as to when it was safe to approach an aircraft.

"The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or were likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees that were exposed to ingestion and jet blast hazards," the report from OSHA said.

OSHA issued a General Duty Clause violation that comes with a maximum penalty of $15,625, the union said.

“Despite the small penalty, it is likely Piedmont will contest the decision,” the union said. “CWA will continue to fight for Courtney Edwards, her family, and the safety of all airline workers, who should never fear for their lives on the job.”

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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