NTSB: Worker Warned about Dangers of Airplane Engines before Accident

27 Jan, 2023 Liz Carey


Montgomery, AL (WorkersCompensation.com) – A worker sucked into the engine of a jet on New Year’s Eve was repeatedly told to not go near it, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Monday.  

In a report about the incident, federal investigators said the airport employee participated along with other ground crew members of the Montgomery, Alabama Regional Airport prior to the plane landing. In fact, the report said, the employee was warned numerous times to not go near the engine while it was still running.  

Around 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31, an airport worker was fatally injured when she was “ingested into the engine” of a nearby plane, officials said. Authorities with the airport said the woman was an employee of Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines Group.  

“We are saddened to hear about the tragic loss of a team member of the AA/Piedmont Airlines,” Wade A. Davis, the airport’s executive director said on Jan. 1. “We are focused on ensuring that all involved have the support they need during this difficult time.” 

The NTSB’s report said the ground crew had conducted a “safety huddle” about the plane that was set to land that night, and how to move around it. The ground crew had another briefing just before the plane arrived at the gate, the report said, and discussed that the engine should not be approached and that safety cones should not be set out until the engines were fully off and spooled down.  

According to the report, pilots on the American Eagle jet had decided that since the plane’s auxiliary power unit wasn’t working, they would let the plane’s No. 1 engine run for two minutes at the gate to cool-down. Pilots said the plane’s engines would need to stay on until the plane could be hooked up to a power source. NTSB investigators said the pilots alerted the airport that the plane’s engines would stay on briefly.  

Once the plane pulled into the gate, the first officer opened his cockpit window and told the ramp agent the engines were still on, the report said.  

The first officer said he saw a warning light come on immediately after that, and felt the plane shake violently before the engine shut down. It was that moment that Edwards had been sucked into the engine of the plane, the report said. 

Officials said Edwards was warned to stay away from the engine by a co-worker after she was nearly knocked over by exhaust as she was attempting to place safety cones near the back of the plane. The ramp agent said he tried to alert her to stay back and wait for engines to shut down.  

Another ramp agent said he saw Edwards about to set safety cones down and yelled at her to move away from the plane because the engine was still running. That agent said he saw Edwards start to move away from the plane, but shortly after heard a loud “bang” and then heard the engine shut off.  

Regulations with American Eagle state that ground crews must stay back at least 15 feet from the front of an engine until its blades stop spinning. During the two safety huddles, crews were told not to go near the plane until the engines were turned off. Additionally, the report said, rotating beacons on the plane let employees know that the engines were still operating.  

"To Keep Employees Alive and Aircraft Intact, You Will: NEVER approach an aircraft to position ground equipment next to an aircraft or open cargo bin doors until the engines are shut down and the rotating beacon(s) turned off, except when conducting an approved single engine turn,” American Eagle’s manual states.  

The 15-foot area in front of an engine is called the “ingestion zone,” the NTSB said.  

"You must never enter the ingestion zone until the engine has spooled down," the agency said in its report, noting it can take up to 60 seconds before an engine has spooled down completely.  "You must wait until you can clearly see the individual fan blades before entering the ingestion zone." 

Video surveillance footage from the incident shows Edwards walking in front of the plane’s engine on the left wing.  

A statement from the Communications Workers of America, the union that represents ground crews, called the incident a tragedy. 

“Courtney … was away from her family working on New Year’s Eve making sure passengers go to where they needed to be for the holidays,” the union said in a statement to al.com at the time of the event. “She represents the very best of our [airport workers], who constantly make sacrifices to serve the flying public.” 

A GoFundMe campaign was established to help Edwards family. As of Wednesday, it had raised more than $100,000 for her surviving family members – her three children and her mother.

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    About The Author

    • 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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