U.S. probe sought in fatal copter crash

Police union chief looks to prosecutors

July 20, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The head of Baltimore's police union is demanding a federal investigation of a Pennsylvania company that assembled a police helicopter's engine shortly before the aircraft crashed and killed the pilot in 1998.

Gary McLhinney, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, has asked local and federal authorities to investigate, after the National Transportation Safety Board ruled the accident was caused by a faulty engine assembled by temporary workers during a labor dispute between the company and striking employees.

"We are asking them to conduct an inquiry to see if sanctions are appropriate," McLhinney said.

McLhinney said yesterday he has asked the Baltimore state's attorney, the U.S. attorney's office and the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate Textron-Lycoming and consider filing criminal charges.

Textron-Lycoming officials declined comment. The U.S. attorney's office, which McLhinney said he believes would take a lead role in an investigation, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

McLhinney also wants prosecutors to investigate Middle River-based Helicopter Transport Services Inc., the company that leased the helicopter to the city.

The NTSB report concluded that in October 1998, the helicopter company changed a cylinder without recording the action. The board did not fault HTSI in the crash.

The NTSB released its final report on the crash late last month, though investigators reached a similar conclusion about the cause within weeks of the accident.

The report concludes the accident was caused by "improper engine assembly."

Workers at Textron-Lycoming, based in Williamsport, Pa., assembled the engine in February 1998 during a seven-month strike that led company officials to hire replacement workers, the report indicates.

During assembly, which occurred eight months before the Nov. 4 crash, the engine crankshaft "had been replaced for unknown reasons," the NTSB findings say. After it was replaced, connecting rods were "not tightened," the report notes.

Temporary workers were manning the two stations where the work occurred, and they were not provided written instructions nor did they have experience assembling aircraft engines, the report says.

"This is the first case I have dealt with where you have this situation," said Robert Hancock, an NTSB investigator.

The report said one of the engine rods malfunctioned, causing the crash. The other rod bolts were also found to be faulty, the safety board's report indicates.

The report ends an 18-month investigation into the crash at the B&O Railroad Museum that killed Officer Barry Wood and seriously injured his partner, Officer Mark A. Keller.

The crash prompted then-Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to ground the helicopter unit.

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