August 13, 2008
Airline Oxygen Failure Alleged
By Art Marroquin
American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating reports that some oxygen masks failed to work during an emergency landing last week at Los Angeles International Airport, officials said Monday.
Several masks did not deploy from overhead bins or completely failed to provide oxygen to passengers aboard the Boeing 757 aircraft, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.
"We're looking into those reports, but we don't know how many oxygen masks were affected at this time," Gregor said,
Hawaii-bound American Airlines Flight 31 departed LAX, but turned around and made an emergency landing one hour later amid reports of smoke in the cockpit and passenger cabin on Aug. 5.
Flight attendants manually deployed the oxygen masks for the 188 passengers and seven crew members on board as the plane headed back to LAX, according to Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines.
Some passengers reported that air did not flow through their masks after pulling a pin to activate the air flow, Wagner said. Others said they did not see the air bag inflate with oxygen.
"Just because the air bag does not inflate does not mean air is not flowing through the system, but we are looking into that," Wagner said.
Oxygen masks are typically deployed automatically when the passenger cabin loses pressure, Wagner said.
Flames were not spotted during the flight. It turned out that a small amount of oil had leaked onto a hot engine compressor and the smell had wafted through the plane's air-conditioning system, according Wagner.
The incident caused the smoky odor and light haze reported by passengers and crew members, he said.
"In a tight space like that, the odor is going to be very strong," Wagner said.
Last year, the FAA uncovered problems with the release pin attached to passenger oxygen masks aboard Boeing 737 and 757 jetliners, Gregor said. The agency issued an airworthiness directive in May 2007, ordering airlines to fix problems by 2012.
The directive requires airlines to fix chemical oxygen generators that failed to activate when the plane's cabin lost pressure.
There are 3,283 airplanes worldwide affected by the directive, about 815 of which are flown in the United States, according to the FAA.
"We follow all airworthiness directives and if this one applies to our fleet, we'll have it completed by the time the FAA directs us to do so," Wagner said.
Airline officials are also reviewing whether some of the flight attendants took matters into their own hands and gave the order to deploy the evacuation slides during last week's emergency landing. Several passengers reportedly suffered scrapes, bruises and twisted ankles on their way down the slides.
American's flight attendants do have the authority to deploy the inflatable slides, but it's routine for them to first check with the plane's pilot, Wagner said. The matter remained under review.
"Our airline's attendants go through training every year and are given various scenarios to practice with," Wagner said. "It is unusual for the slides to be deployed but it happened in this case."
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