Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Valujet Crash Is an Impetus for Shake-Up in Air Safety Hearing to Release Investigators' Findings in Search for the Cause

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Valujet Crash Is an Impetus for Shake-Up in Air Safety Hearing to Release Investigators' Findings in Search for the Cause

Article excerpt

EVEN without an official cause, the pulverizing crash of a ValuJet plane in the Everglades has already produced a move toward a safer jet fleet and an upheaval in how the government oversees airlines.

More changes could be ahead as the National Transportation Safety Board examines the May 11 crash during a weeklong hearing that begins today. A final report is expected in the spring.

Investigators suspect oxygen-generating canisters carried in the DC-9's cargo compartment shifted, igniting a fire that sent smoke into the cabin and cockpit before it cut power and the jetliner's steering controls. After just 12 minutes in the air, Flight 592 plunged into the Everglades, killing all 110 aboard. In its search for answers, the safety board this month started a fire in an old airplane cargo compartment and the results will be presented at the hearing. Investigators also are looking at the handling of hazardous cargo, aircraft maintenance by outsiders and the government's supervision of start-up airlines like ValuJet. A jigsaw puzzle of thousands of mangled pieces of debris - most no bigger than five feet - was assembled in a hangar, eventually amounting to about three-quarters of the aircraft. Just Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration gave in and accepted a longstanding safety board recommendation for fire detectors and extinguishers in cargo compartments of 2,800 older aircraft. The recommendation came after an injury-free cargo fire in 1988; the FAA rejected it in 1993, primarily because of the cost, estimated at $350 million. The position was less defensible following the loss of life in the ValuJet crash, in which passengers may have been overcome by smoke before impact. "Even if the fire didn't start while the plane was still on the ground, the detection equipment may have given the pilot just enough time to turn around and get back," said David Borer, attorney for the Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing ValuJet attendants. …

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