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Aviation Human Factors Industry News

December 5, 2005

Vol. I, Issue 4

Australia’s Navy report foretold Sea King accident

By Cynthia Banham Defence Reporter
December 3, 2005

A DAMNING navy report written before the fatal Sea King crash in April said the helicopter squadron had insufficient staff and assets and was headed for "an accident".

The document, sent anonymously to the inquiry into the tragedy, slammed the top levels of the naval hierarchy, saying despite the problems, "no one in the command has the balls to say enough is enough".

The internal working document has since been traced to the 817 Squadron's acting fleet aviation engineering officer, Lieutenant-Commander Bradley Hock, who was responsible for monitoring standards and practices of aircraft maintenance between February 14 and June 20.

He prepared the report in response to the November 2004 minute from the 817 Squadron commander, James Tobin, written after a number of serious safety incidents with the Sea Kings, which told of an "embedded culture of shortcuts and workarounds" in maintenance.

The report by Lieutenant-Commander Hock warned that 817 Squadron "isn't manned and has insufficient assets to operate four concurrent bases".

"There is far too much of the 'can do' attitude irrespective of the management issues and knowledge base," his report said. An inquiry spokeswoman said the report "came into the possession of counsel assisting" the inquiry, Captain Michael Slattery, QC.

The document, written last year, about three months before Sea King Shark 02 crashed on the Indonesian island of Nias, killing nine personnel, says that "to say that the squadron is ready to meet the challenges in 2005 is incorrect unless command was depending on new personnel brought on board to address the many problems to turn the squadron around before an accident".

The report by Lieutenant-Commander Hock said there was "no physical proof" that changes that were supposed to have been made to the squadron had been implemented, and that there was an "overriding problem with squadron management".

The document said the problems inside 817 Squadron were "nothing new as other squadrons have the same problems, especially Squadron 816".

The Lieutenant-Commander recommended "a health check of specific areas with 817 Squadron" be undertaken during the second week in March.

Lieutenant-Commander Hock has told the inquiry he was asked to prepare the report by Commander Darryl Varco, the fleet aviation engineering officer, who is due to give evidence next week.

The inquiry has heard numerous allegations of substandard maintenance practices within the squadron.

Witness to plane crash testifies on second day of wrongful death trial


December 1, 2005

As the woman walked a dog behind the Collier County Humane Society three years ago, an airplane crashed less than 15 feet away, landing with a thud that shook the ground.

The woman, January Travis-Pees, pointed to the witness box from where she testified Wednesday, then gestured to the jury box as she approximated the distance.

She was working for the Humane Society when the single-engine plane carrying Cavin Councilor, Shawn King and Charles Scherer Jr. crashed June 19, 2002.

The plane's engine had quit after takeoff. So it made no noise as it descended nose down. She never saw it coming, until it hit.

"It happened so fast, it was just 'Bam!' and there it was," she testified. "It was just so loud. The earth shook."

Travis-Pees testified on the second day of the wrongful-death/negligence trial for the lawsuit by King's and Scherer's estates and families against the Naples airport company that did repairs and maintenance on the plane.

She put the dog on the back porch, grabbed a fire extinguisher and rushed to the plane. The engine was exposed and the windshield had smashed out, so she could clearly see Councilor, the pilot, and Scherer, the front-seat passenger.

She approached and tried to get a pulse on Councilor, 38.

"There was none. He was dead," Travis-Pees testified.

She then checked on Scherer, 37.

"He kind of looked up at me, and his eyes kind of fluttered, then he died. Then I heard moaning (behind him)," she testified.

King, 31, was in a rear seat and was still alive, but barely.

Travis-Pees never got very close to him, instead telling him from where she stood "be still. Don't try to move. Help is on the way."

Collier County Emergency Medical Services Lt. Dave Becker testified that he and his partner worked on King after fire personnel spent 20 minutes extricating him from the crumpled aircraft.

King was never coherent and initially had no pulse or respiration.

Becker began CPR and chest compressions, put a tube in King's throat to help him breathe and administered fluids and medication before rushing him to Naples Community Hospital. But King died there.

The lawsuits against the two companies owned by the defendant, Mark London, seek more than $8 million in damages.

Councilor's plane had been in London's care for routine repairs for the two weeks before the fatal flight. Two engine cylinders had been replaced. The plane was tested twice and cleared for takeoff. It did, but the engine lost power when it reached about 300 feet of altitude.

The first major witness for the plaintiffs Wednesday followed what the attorneys for the King and Scherer families described in their opening arguments the day before.

Jack Lipscomb, a former National Transportation Safety Board official now working in Virginia as a private aircraft accident re-constructionist, gave jurors a tutorial on the Piper Malibu's engine and explained why it failed.

A nut connected to a fuel line was loose. Lipscomb testified whoever had last done maintenance on the plane — London Aviation — was responsible for that.

The loose nut led to a fuel leak.

Without fuel, the engine stopped.

As evidence of that leak, a stain on the engine block near two cylinders, including one that London Aviation had replaced, showed there had been a flash fire caused by combustion of aviation fuel.

Witnesses, including Mark London himself, reported hearing a pop, a sort of backfire of gray smoke, before the crash. That also backed up the theory, Lipscomb testified.

"Technically, the engine is in perfect shape," Lipscomb testified. "(The nut) just wasn't tight enough from the last person who put it on there."

During cross-examination by London's attorney, John Murray, Lipscomb rebuffed insinuations he's a hired gun for plaintiffs seeking big bucks in aviation-related lawsuits. He was hired by the Scherer family at a rate of between $150 and $175 an hour, plus expenses.

Murray also pointed out that reports on the crash written by investigators from the NTSB and the manufacturers of the airplane and engine never mentioned a loose nut or the fuel leak. In other words, independent investigators noted none of the evidence on which Lipscomb relied for his conclusion.

"True. But there wasn't any mention of that stain there, either," Lipscomb said, pointing to the engine casing sitting on a table in front of the jury box. A dark stain was clearly visible.

Murray has told jurors that pilot error contributed to the crash. When the plane lost power, Councilor tried to return to the airport, Murray said. But the change in direction diminished the airlift under the wings, so the plane plummeted.

Lipscomb, a former pilot, said he doubts Councilor tried to turn.

The plane turned to the right, but it would have made more sense to turn left, where the airport was. And a turn would have been a violation of a fundamental rule that no pilot would violate, Lipscomb testified.

"I don't believe the pilot turned it either way. I think the plane probably got into stall speed, and it turned on its own," Lipscomb said.

Testimony for the plaintiffs continues today. But it will do so without one juror. On Wednesday, Collier Circuit Judge Daniel R. Monaco dismissed a male juror who informed the court he lived on the same street as Mark London, whose home address came out in testimony.

The man was replaced by a female alternative member of the panel, so the jury now has four women and two men. One female alternate juror remains for the two-week trial

Traffic possible factor in crash

Federal investigators began removing the rubble from the deadly collision of two helicopters at the end of Sunday's NASCAR event in Homestead.


Heavy air traffic and blinding stadium lights may have contributed to the deadly mid-air collision of two helicopters picking up VIPs from the NASCAR championship race in Homestead, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said Monday.

The pilot killed in Sunday night's crash was identified as Johnny Alex Campiglia, 24, of Pompano Beach.

He was working for Heliflight of Fort Lauderdale, flying race car drivers and wealthy fans to and from the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season-ending race. He was the only one in the copter, which he was trying to land at a helipad outside of the stadium.

So was the other pilot, Christopher McGinley, 42, of Kendall, who was flying for Biscayne Helicopters. He was not ferrying any passengers at the time either.

The collision occurred around 8:45 p.m. -- about an hour after the final race ended -- while the helicopters were about 150 to 300 feet up.

Witnesses said the pilots were maneuvering toward the same helipad and McGinley's copter ran into the top of Campiglia's.

According to witnesses, one of the landing skids of McGinley's copter hit the rotor blades of Campiglia's chopper, causing it to spin out of control into a parked motor home, where it burst into flames.

No one was inside the motor home at the time. Campiglia was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center, where he later died.

He will be buried Wednesday, his family said.

McGinley managed to land at the helipad, though he came down hard. He walked away from his aircraft, according to the NTSB.

Just a few hours before the crash, McGinley had been interviewed by a Miami Herald reporter doing a story about race teams and NASCAR bigwigs flying to the Nextel Cup finale by helicopter. Officials say they often do it to avoid traffic jams on the ground. But at big races such as Homestead's, even the air lanes get crowded.

''It's like rush hour on the turnpike, only in the sky,'' Al Garcia, vice president of operations at the Speedway, told The Herald last week.

Copter pilots often end up making several trips a day to the speedway.

McGinley said he was working the grueling three-day event because he needed the money. On Sunday, he said he would be working a 14-hour day, but he was up to it.

''When you've been down [Homestead-Miami Speedway] as long as I've been, you know what to expect,'' McGinley said.

No one answered the door at McGinley home's Monday afternoon. A spokesman for his employer, Biscayne Helicopters, did not return messages.


The official cause of the crash may not be released for nine months, though a preliminary investigation should be done within days, said Tim Monville, a senior NTSB inspector overseeing removal of the wreckage Monday.

McGinley told the NTSB that he never saw Campiglia's helicopter nor heard any radio transmissions. He also said the lights from the stadium and police cars on traffic duty were distractions as he approached the helipad.

Also, fireworks from a nearby RV parking area splattered the sky, witnesses said.

McGinley said he took off from Ocean Reef, a posh private enclave at the northern tip of the Keys, at about 8:35 p.m. to pick up four passengers at the speedway, said Monville.

When he was about a mile out, McGinley contacted ground controllers at the helipad about coming in for landing. They acknowledged him and gave him the go-ahead, according to Monville.

However, the controllers -- industry professionals volunteering their time for the event -- don't recall any transmission from Campiglia, the NTSB official said.

But Monville said that doesn't mean Campiglia hadn't gotten clearance to land, but rather investigators have not heard that from anyone yet.

McGinley told the NTSB he began his approach, intending to land on the westernmost concrete pad. Unbeknown to him, Campiglia -- who was flying slightly below and in front of McGinley -- was also headed there.


How the two pilots ended on a collision course is critical to the investigation. Where both given clearances that put them in each other's flight path? Did the pilots misunderstand directions? Did pilot fatigue play a role?

McGinley was given drug and alcohol tests. Similar tests will be performed on Campiglia, standard procedure for any accident investigation. The results have not been released.

Both pilots had clean flying records, said the Federal Aviation Administration.

Neither the state's aviation department nor the federal government has direct oversight over security operations at private helicopter landing pads such as the speedway's, officials said.

Speedway officials declined to be interviewed or answer e-mailed questions about helicopter safety procedures.

On Monday, some who witnessed the crash said it showered the area with debris. Gary Wright, 50, of Palm Bay, said he was just across Palm Drive (Southwest 344th Street).

''[McGinley] flew right into [Campiglia's] rotors, as best I can tell,'' Wright said. ``The first one [Campiglia's] was moving in [to land] at about 10 to 15 miles per hour, the other one a little faster . . . It sounded like one of those NASCAR cars running into a wall. There were a couple big whaps. It didn't last long.''

A piece of one of the helicopters -- Wright thinks it was part of a landing skid -- flew past him and smashed through the front window of his pickup truck.

Another race fan, Gino Jensen, of Davie, said he and his friends were waiting for helicopter piloted by McGinley. That morning, they had been flown in from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport aboard the same chopper. They even posed for photos in front of it.

''We talked all the way down. Very professional guy. Really good pilot,'' Jensen said of McGinley.

''But it happened so fast -- who knows?'' added Jensen, whose group rented a limousine to get home.

Money Woes Affect Work Performance

A recent study found that one in four American workers is distressed about his or her personal financial situation. Of these distressed workers, nearly eighty percent report spending time at their jobs dealing with or worrying about money issues. This type of worry can affect job performance in many ways. For example, employees with money worries have been linked to higher absenteeism and turnover rates. They are also more likely to use the phone and fax for personal business. Studies have also shown that people with the highest financial stress levels are more prone to health problems. (Stephanie Armour, "Money Woes Seep into Work" The Indianapolis Star, November 21, 2005.)

Circadian Commentary: 

To help minimize production losses caused by employee financial stress, some companies have put into place programs to assist employees with their finances. These programs include seminars and lunches on topics like debt management and financial planning. Many companies also provide help to their employees through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs can provide individualized advice to workers and can help workers who may be shy or embarrassed about attending a seminar for fear of being seen as financially irresponsible by their colleagues. Anything that a company can do to improve the lives of its employees will be appreciated and will likely lead to more employee loyalty and more productivity.

END with thanks to jetBlue