'This smells. This really smells.'
Investigator reacts to news that ValuJet report was ignoredNovember 22, 1996
Web posted at: 5:05 p.m. EST
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A Federal Aviation Administration manager, who wrote a report documenting several safety concerns with ValuJet three months before the crash of Flight 592, testified Friday his document was ignored.
John Tutora, a midlevel FAA manager, said he filed a report February 14 that suggested that the FAA boost its surveillance of the airline. But the report was never shared with other supervisors or regional staff in Atlanta, where ValuJet is based, he said.
When asked why the report wasn't passed along, Tutora hinted that the agency operates under a chain of command that thwarts subordinates' suggestions.
Bernard Loeb, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said he found it "mind-boggling that that could happen" in an agency whose "main mission is safety." He pressed Tutora, asking if such "constraints" were common within the FAA. (363K/31 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
"Yes sir. That's the way it is," Tutora said.
"So you were essentially shackled from doing anything about this," an incredulous Loeb inquired.
"Absolutely," Tutora said.
His comments came on the final day of NTSB hearings into the May 11 crash that killed all 110 people aboard.
While no official cause of the crash has been identified, improperly boxed oxygen-generating canisters in the jetliner's cargo hold are blamed for a fire on board before the plane nose-dived into the Florida Everglades. Investigators have focused on missteps by the airline, its maintenance contractor and the FAA.
John Goglia, chairman of the NTSB's investigative panel, accused the FAA of allowing politics to drive the decision to keep Tutora's report on the shelf. It was written at a time when the FAA's oversight activities were the subject of pending congressional hearings and an internal investigation.
"This smells. This really smells," Goglia told Tutora.
Other testimony of problems
The FAA began four months of surveillance of ValuJet on February 22, a week after Tutora filed his report. But his document had nothing to do with the decision to monitor the airline.
Tutora said he believed his report was ordered so that his boss, Frederick Leonelli, could have a "snapshot" of the airline in case he was questioned about ValuJet during the congressional hearing. Leonelli has since retired and has not been called to testify.
Another official testified that he had requested extra inspectors to help keep up with ValuJet, but his boss rejected the idea.
"He suggested that maybe I was the one who should be let go," said Charles Spillner, the FAA's flight standards manager for ValuJet.
Spillner said he focused efforts on what appeared to be the most obvious problem -- ValuJet's flight practices. Prior to the crash, the airline had had five other accidents, including three in which planes ran off runways.
Meanwhile, William White, the head of the FAA's flight standards service, told the NTSB panel that inspections of ValuJet conducted in 1994 and 1995 showed there were "problems with this carrier."
Asked if additional inspectors were given to the regional inspection office to handle the oversight of ValuJet, White said, "There was no need (at the time) for additional resources that was brought to my attention."
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