Federal authorities discovered this week that a worker at an airport in Alabama who died after being sucked into a jet engine on New Year’s Eve had been repeatedly warned about the risks of being close to it. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a report Monday that the Montgomery regional airport employee, along with other coworkers of the facility’s ground crew, had attended a “safety huddle” about how to move around the plane at the center of the case 10 minutes before it arrived at the gate on December 31.
There was another similar briefing just before the aircraft arrived at the gate. According to the report from the organization that looks into aviation-related fatalities, the pilots of the American Eagle jet had decided to leave the aircraft running at the airport gate for a cool-down period of two minutes because an auxiliary power unit on board wasn’t working.
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The engines needed to stay on until the plane could be connected to a power source on the ground. The report states that the plane’s pilots informed airport staff that the engines would be on for a while. According to the American Eagle manual, the ground crew should keep at least 15 feet away from an engine’s front until the blades cease rotating.
During two safety huddles, the airport staff was instructed not to approach the jet until the engines were shut off. According to the report, spinning beacons on the aircraft alerted staff that the machines were still running. After nearly being knocked over by jet exhaust, the worker who died had one more caution to remain back from a colleague.
Despite this, the report continued, the warned worker soon crossed in front of one of the engines. According to the investigations, the employee was sucked into the engine and killed. The pilots claimed they felt the plane shake strongly before they recognized what had happened, and the coworker had recounted hearing a “boom” when the engine shut down.
The aircraft was flown by Envoy Air, an associate of American Airlines, and had 63 passengers and staff on board. The worker who died is not identified in the report. But the union that represented her claimed to have recognized her as Courtney Edwards, according to the neighborhood news website al.com. Edwards worked as a ground handler for Piedmont Airlines, an American Airlines affiliate.
The Communication Workers of America union described Edwards’ passing as “heartbreaking,” and a “sad tragedy” in a statement supplied to al.com. According to the union statement, “Courtney… was away from her family on New Year’s Eve working to ensure passengers went to where they needed to be for the holidays.” She is an excellent example of the daily sacrifices that [airport employees] make to serve the traveling public.
To help Edwards’ family, an online GoFundMe campaign was started, and as of Tuesday, it had nearly $100,000 in donations. Her mother and three children were among her survivors. In response to the NTSB report, neither airport representatives nor Edwards’ company had an immediate response.