ValuJet: Subcontractor deliberately mislabeled deadly cargo
Says canisters were put on doomed flight to pass inspection
August 14, 1997
Web posted at: 7:41 p.m. EDT (2341 GMT)
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ATLANTA (CNN) -- ValuJet Airlines is alleging that a
maintenance subcontractor deliberately mislabeled a shipment
of oxygen canisters put aboard Flight 592, which crashed into
the Florida Everglades in 1996.
Federal investigators believe those canisters led to a fire
aboard the Miami-to-Atlanta flight that likely caused it to
plunge from the sky, killing all 110 people aboard.
In a press release issued Thursday, Atlanta-based ValuJet
said the subcontractor, SabreTech, wanted to get the oxygen
canisters out of its Miami facility in order to pass an
inspection by a potential new client, Continental Airlines.
SabreTech employees deliberately mislabeled the cartons for
shipment aboard Flight 592, even though they knew the
canisters could be dangerous, ValuJet alleges.
The airline said it has provided evidence to support its
allegations to the National Transportation Safety Board, the
Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and the U.S.
attorney's office in Miami.
SabreTech's attorney, Kenneth P. Quinn, called the new
charges preposterous, pointing out that federal investigators
found that ValuJet knowingly carried hazardous materials at
least six times in 1996.
"I think this is more of the hysterical rantings of an
airline that is about to be cited by the NTSB for serious
shortcomings that contributed to the crash," Quinn said. "I
think it's another effort by ValuJet to put up a smokescreen
to their own ineptitude."
The NTSB is scheduled to release preliminary findings Tuesday
in its investigation of the crash of Flight 592. ValuJet has
asked the NTSB to investigate its recent allegations before
releasing that report.
Since the crash, ValuJet and SabreTech have been exchanging
charges about who was responsible for the full oxygen
generators put in the cargo hold of the doomed flight.
The generators create a chemical reaction that can produce
oxygen for passengers' use if a plane loses cabin pressure.
The reaction produces intense heat.
ValuJet has maintained that it thought the oxygen generators
were empty when it accepted them for shipment. The company
alleges that a SabreTech employee, Andrew Salas, told fellow
employees to designate the canisters as empty and then signed
a false document.
To bolster its claims that SabreTech deliberately mislabeled
the canisters, the airline released excerpts of interviews by
FAA investigators with Salas and his supervisor, Bill Giral:
- Salas said he was told to get the boxes off the floor and
asked Giral if he should ship them to Atlanta. In his
statement, Giral said that when he found out the canisters
went out on a ValuJet passenger flight, he "could not believe
- Salas told investigators he was unfamiliar with oxygen
generators and had never shipped any, and he denied any
knowledge of shipping the canisters on Flight 592. But
documents verifying the shipment showed his signature.
Also on Thursday, the FAA responded to several issues that
had been raised by the NTSB's investigation into the
- Concerning charges that ValuJet's chief of maintenance at
the time of the crash may have falsified his qualifications
for the job, the FAA said it has taken no action because it
is devoting its resources to improving the airline's current
"The message we've sent to airlines is that we will not
tolerate that behavior in the future," said an FAA statement.
- Responding to concerns that Spanish-speaking SabreTech
employees may not have been able to read maintenance manuals
or shipping labels, the FAA said, "Inspectors are now
confident ValuJet can meet safety standards."
ValuJet no longer uses SabreTech as a maintenance
- The agency said Thursday that it still plans to give
airlines three years to put smoke detectors and fire
extinguishers in passenger plane cargo holds.
Despite at least two incidents this year where oxygen
canisters were carried on passenger planes, the FAA still
said it believes the risk isn't great enough to require the
Correspondent Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.