A worker at an Alabama airport who died after being sucked into a jet engine last New Year’s Eve had been repeatedly warned of the dangers of approaching him, federal investigators revealed this week.
The Montgomery Regional Airport worker, along with other fellow ground crew members at the facility, had undergone a “security huddle” about how to move around the center of the plane 10 minutes before arriving at the gate on December 31 another similar briefing just before the plane arrived at the gate, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a report Monday.
The pilots of the American Eagle jet had decided to run the plane for a two-minute cool-down at the airport gate because an auxiliary power unit on board was malfunctioning and the engines had to remain on until the plane could be plugged into a power source on the ground be connected, the report from the agency that investigates aviation-related deaths said.
According to the report, the plane’s pilots warned airport officials that the engines would remain on for a while.
The American Eagle handbook warns ground crew to stay at least 15 feet from the front of an engine until the rotor blades stop spinning. Airport crews also had two security squads where they were told not to walk past the plane until the engines were shut off, and beacons on the plane warned staff that the engines were still firing, the report said.
The employee who was eventually killed received another warning to back off from a colleague after he was almost knocked over by the jet’s exhaust fumes.
Nevertheless, according to the report, the warned employee soon ran in front of one of the engines. The employee was sucked into the engine and killed, investigators said.
The colleague described hearing a “bang” as the engine cut out, and the pilots said they felt the plane shake violently before realizing what had happened.
The aircraft carried 63 passengers and crew while operated by American Airlines subsidiary Envoy Air.
The report does not name the worker killed. But according to local news site al.com, the union that represented her identified her as Courtney Edwards.
Edwards was a ground handling agent for Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines. A statement made available to al.com by Communication Workers of America called Edwards’ death “heartbreaking” and a “horrible tragedy.”
“Courtney … was away from her family on New Year’s Eve to make sure passengers got to where they needed to be over the holidays,” the union said in a statement. “She represents the very best of us [airport workers]who constantly make sacrifices to serve the flying public.”
An online GoFundMe campaign set up to support Edward’s family had raised nearly $100,000 as of Tuesday. Her survivors included three children and their mother.
Neither airport officials nor Edwards’ employer immediately responded to the NTSB report.