The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report into a horrifying accident in which a ground worker was sucked into an engine of an American Eagle jet engine at Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama on New Year’s Eve.
The report into the accident provides the first blow-by-blow account of how the female ground worker was killed after she apparently strayed too close to the moving jet engine of an Embraer ERJ-175 regional jet that was operated by Envoy Airlines on behalf of American Airlines.
The aircraft had just landed in Alabama following an uneventful flight from Dallas when the pilots decided to keep the engines running. Normally, the engines could be shut down earlier, but in this case, the auxiliary power unit (APU) was broken so the engines had to stay running until the aircraft was connected to ground power.
The pilots told NTSB investigators that they had decided to keep the engines running for a full two minutes after reaching the stand for a required cool-down period. It was during this time that the ground worker was fatally injured when she ingested into the left-hand engine.
This is a particularly dangerous time for ground workers due to the risk of engine ingestion and there is a slew of safety rules designed to prevent workers from getting too close to an engine until it is fully shut down.
Along with witness testimony from the pilots and the other ground workers who were present at the time of the accident, investigators have been assisted by video surveillance footage that captured the whole incident.
The footage showed the deceased ground worker walking towards the back of the airplane where another ramp agent told investigators that he saw her nearly fall over from the power of the engine exhaust.
He attempted to warn her to stay back but the surveillance footage showed the female worker start walking towards the left wing tip before disappearing from view. She reappeared on camera as she walked in front of the left-hand engine where she was pulled off her feet by the power of the jet and ingested into the engine.
The whole incident happened so quickly that the Captain was initially unsure what had actually occurred. His first indication that something was wrong was when the aircraft “shook violently,” and the left-hand engine went into automatic shutdown mode.
The Captain then left the flight deck to find out that the ground worker had been tragically killed.
The other team members working the flight told the NTSB that they held a joint safety briefing just 10 minutes before the airplane arrived at the gate. They then conducted a second safety ‘huddle’ just before the plane arrived, where they discussed the fact that the engines would continue running and that no one should approach the aircraft.
Included in this briefing was a warning that ground workers shouldn’t approach the aircraft with safety cones until after the engines had been shut down. The surveillance video appeared to show the deceased workers go to the back of the plane with a safety cone.
Leading up to the fatal accident, the upper and lower aircraft beacon lights were flashing – a key indication that the engines are running.
None of the 59 passengers and four crew members were injured in the accident. After remaining on the ground for several days, the aircraft returned to service on January 8 and continues to fly on behalf of American Eagle.
The NTSB did not indicate when the final report is expected to be published.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.