Crewman knew jet's fuel valve was stuck He saw no threat, so BWI wasn't alerted

2 people were sprayed

March 06, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The flight engineer of a World Airways plane that dumped jet fuel onto a Glen Burnie woman and her son this year knew well before landing that a fuel valve was stuck but foresaw no threat that warranted alerting the airport.

Airline officials met with U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest yesterday to go over the events of Jan. 20. Gilchrest, a Republican who represents areas near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, met the representatives as part of his investigation on whether congressional hearings on midair jet fuel dumpings are necessary.

"What we're discussing now is the basic mechanism of a chain of command for reporting these kinds of incidences how fast does this type of incident get sourced to the right people," said Gilchrest, who has asked the House Subcommittee on Aviation for hearings into the frequency of such incidents across the country.

The Glen Burnie incident occurred as the pilot of the World Airways plane -- which had been chartered to take Air Force personnel and their families to Germany -- was forced to abruptly return to BWI to get help for a toddler who had become unconscious after suffering a seizure.

To land the plane safely according to Federal Aviation Administration weight regulations, the pilot had to rid the plane of about 13,000 gallons of fuel, which evaporates quickly if released at high altitudes.

A valve did not shut completely, resulting in the unintended spray over Glen Burnie as the plane approached BWI. A mother and son caught in the spray suffered minor skin irritation, headaches and nausea.

"That was a very rare occurrence," said John Prible, a World Airways assistant chief pilot who met with Gilchrest for 40 minutes yesterday, along with a company attorney and the airline's vice president of flight operations. "And if it happened again, there's nothing the crew could do from inside the cockpit to close that valve."

Prible said that when the flight engineer realized the valve had malfunctioned, he shut off the device that pumped fuel out. He assumed that the 60 to 100 gallons still left in the pipe would discharge at the plane's altitude at the time -- more than 12,000 feet -- and so would not pose any problems, he said.

Prible said it wasn't until the plane landed that the pilot realized the fuel had been released at low altitude.

Gilchrest said he will meet also with BWI officials in about two weeks to discuss the matter further.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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