Replacement workers built copter engine, company says Motor built during strike failed, killing police pilot

November 18, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The company that built the engine involved in a fatal Baltimore police helicopter crash Nov. 4 confirmed yesterday that the motor was assembled by workers who had not been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Michael D. Wolf, a vice president of marketing for Pennsylvania-based Textron-Lycoming, said yesterday that the workers -- filling in during a strike -- were qualified, despite their lack of FAA certification.

Wolf refused to say which jobs were handled by the uncertified employees, some of whom he described as office workers.

"Some were certified, some were not," Wolf said. "But they were all trained. We felt they were qualified to do the work, or they wouldn't have been there." He said replacement mechanics had degrees from technical colleges.

FAA officials could not be reached for comment last night.

Company officials had declined to comment Monday after a federal investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board said the replacement workers were a central focus of the inquiry.

Officer Barry W. Wood, an experienced pilot and a 27-year veteran, was killed in the crash at the B & O Railroad Museum. The NTSB has said a connecting rod broke loose in the engine and punctured two holes in the casing, causing the Schweizer 300C helicopter to go down.

The NTSB investigator, Jim Cain, said he is trying to determine how the rod came loose. The engine had been installed by a private maintenance crew at Martin State Airport in Middle River 13 days before the crash.

Cain said his investigation could take six to eight months.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 in Baltimore, said he sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney's office yesterday requesting a federal criminal investigation.

The engine on the downed city helicopter was built in February, near the end of a seven-month walkout by 375 production and maintenance workers.

The strike involved charges of unfair labor practices, "including the use of office workers to assemble engines," according to Bob McHugh, a negotiator for the United Auto Workers union, which represented the strikers.

But a three-paragraph statement issued last night by Textron-Lycoming said the "FAA conducted several plant audits" ensure the company was "maintaining a high standard of quality and procedures. The company passed all the audits."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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