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CNN Today

Alaska Airlines Flight 261: Investigators Focus on 1997 Maintenance Records Pertaining to Key Tail Assembly Part

Aired February 14, 2000 - 2:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. airlines are working to meet today's FAA deadline for inspecting the tail assemblies of 1,100 planes. The agency ordered the safety check after the Alaska Airlines crash. Crews are focusing on the jackscrew, the rod that drives the stabilizer and helps keep the plane level.

CNN's Carl Rochelle joins now with more on this story from Washington -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, some potentially serious information learned by the National Transportation Safety Board reported to us last evening, and still a very important, very interesting aspect of this story.

During a heavy maintenance check in September of 1997, investigators discovered that the same jackscrew and gimbal nut assembly that was recovered from the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash had been run up to the limits. In other words, it was as far as it could go without being replaced, and it was recommended that it be replaced in the heavy maintenance the next day. Well, a subsequent investigation or inspection on the next day by officials and mechanics at Alaska Airlines determined that it was in tolerance.

And after five different inspections -- and let me show you exactly what we're talking about. This is the jackscrew here. It's driven by a motor up in this top area. And this is the gimbal nut assembly. And right in here is where they determined by the inspection that, on the first day, that it was all the way to the limits, that it could not be run anymore without being replaced. The next day, it was in tolerance; five different inspections said it was OK to use this particular part even if it was not replaced. That was in 1997, the first inspection on September 29, the subsequent inspection on September 30. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, that was the last inspection of this particular part of the aircraft.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board says that the information, the significance of this information is still to be determined. It is being evaluated by the board and no determination has been made by the board whether this information is a factor in the accident.

Now, complicating the issue, making it more complex, is the fact that Alaska Airlines' maintenance base at Oakland is under federal inspection over allegations that some maintenance records may have been replaced.

So, Natalie, that is all out there. That's what they are looking at very carefully. Those airline inspections, let me tell you just the latest figures that I have from the FAA, are that 21 airlines found problems with the tail section, that jackscrew assembly that adjusts the trim. Thirteen of the airline -- of the airplanes were inspected, the parts were replaced and they were returned to service. There are eight that are still under inspection. And of all these inspections I've looked at, surprisingly, Alaska Airlines, which operates 34 of these aircraft, had eight with problems in that stabilizer trim area, Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Carl Rochelle in Washington.

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