Families Impatient With 737 ProbeANICK JESDANUN , Associated Press
Mar. 24, 1999 10:19 AM ET
SPRINGFIELD, Va. (AP) _ Ralph Dickerson still refuses to board a Boeing 737, even though it's been more than four years since his daughter died in a plane crash. His wife has given up flying altogether.
The Dickersons' confidence in airplanes and the government remains low even as federal safety investigators wrapped up their probe into what caused a 737 to plunge into a hillside ravine near Pittsburgh on Sept. 8, 1994.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined today that the crash was caused by rudder problems.
``Something that takes 4 1/2 years means people are dragging their feet,'' Dickerson said Tuesday. ``Can you imagine 800 planes flying with passengers not knowing'' if the equipment is sound?
The 737 is the world's most common jetliner, with some 3,100 in use worldwide and 800 in the air at any given time. The National Transportation Safety Board has been eager to find out what went wrong to determine whether wholesale design changes are needed to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Marla Dickerson and 131 other people were killed in the crash of USAir Flight 427 in Aliquippa, Pa. Her parents took a train from New York to join other family members angry, frustrated or impatient with the pace of the probe, the longest in the NTSB's 31-year history.
``Four and a half years is an awful long time to find out how your husband died,'' said Joanne Shortley of Pittsburgh, whose husband was on Flight 427. ``It's a long time not to have closure.''
Investigators long have suspected the 737's rudder system but were stymied by lack of information because the plane's flight data recorder only recorded 11 parameters Q too few as far as the safety board is concerned.
While family members awaited word on the cause of the crash, they avoided flights when possible, especially those that use 737s. Some have even changed flights to avoid the aircraft.
Donovan Garber, whose older son was on the flight, drove six hours to the hearing from Dayton, Ohio, with his younger son. He has a pending lawsuit against the Boeing Co., which says its own investigation has found no supporting physical evidence for a problematic rudder reversal.
Lori Fulton of Canonsburg, Pa., who lost her first husband, scoffed at the notion that aviation accidents are rare.
``Someone has to find out what's going on with the rudder system,'' she said. ``To everyone else it might be rare, but to all of us it's the event that changed our lives.''
The safety board reserved a special section for some 100 family members in attendance. Family members watched attentively as investigators made detailed presentations on aircraft mechanics and simulations of the doomed flight.
Most of the relatives already have gotten used to watching and hearing about the crash, although Angelina Hall of Las Vegas was saddened and ``sorry my mother had to endure what she did.''
Janet Menarcheck and her two children wore buttons with a picture of their father, William Jr., who was returning home on business when the plane crashed. They remained hopeful that the hearings would settle the matter once and for all.
``It's good to know why and what they are going to do about it,'' said William Menarcheck III, 18, of Hopwood, Pa. ``It feels a lot better than not knowing what happened.''
And while several relatives criticized the length of the investigation, a few family members were actually glad the board took this long.
``I'm just glad they kept it open and got the job done as opposed to (finishing earlier) to say `I don't know,''' said Joan Kafcas, whose husband died in the crash.