A leading safety board said an employee who was sucked into an airplane’s engine at an Alabama airport was warned about the dangers of getting too close to the machine right before the tragic incident.
According to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board on Monday, several rules were not observed, despite two meetings regarding the protocol minutes earlier in the day.
The NTSB concluded that Courtney Edwards, a 34-year-old ramp personnel for Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, was consumed by a plane engine on New Year’s Eve because of human error.
According to the report obtained by Atlanta Black Star, the accident happened around 3:40 p.m. on Dec. 31.
An Embraer 170 airplane, arriving from Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) to Montgomery, was “parked at the gate with one engine running at Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM)” when a “ramp personnel was fatally injured,” the report states.
The flight was fully loaded with 63 passengers and crew members, none of whom were injured that day.
According to the report, the flight crew did everything expected of them, including leaving “both engines running for the required two-minute engine cool-down period.”
“As the airplane approached the gate, three ramp agents were present but clear of the safety area. After stopping the aircraft and setting the parking brake, the captain gave the hand signal to connect the airplane to ground power,” the investigation revealed.
“The first officer (FO) opened his cockpit window to inform the ramp agent that the engines were still operating. The captain then made a brief announcement asking the passengers to remain seated until the seat belt sign had been turned off. He then relayed his intentions to the FO that the seat belt sign would stay illuminated until they had connected to ground power and could shut down the number 1 (left) engine.”
The captain saw a warning light going off, and the plane started shaking “violently.” At this point, the first engine shut down, the investigation revealed, prompting the pilot to turn off “the emergency lights and shut off both batteries before leaving the flight deck to investigate.”
Surveillance cameras revealed that not everyone was following the same protocol given to them by the federal safety agencies governing airline operations, which caused the irregularity. It also showed the tragic moments leading up to Edwards’ death.
Edwards was out with three other co-workers on the runway.
The report states Edwards, the ramp agent, “appeared walking towards the back of the airplane with an orange safety cone where she disappeared from view.”
One of her colleagues attempted to help her, trying to warn her to stay back and “wait for the engines to be shut down.” But he was too late. Another tried to also alert her by yelling and waving his hands. But, he, too, was unsuccessful at getting her attention.
Video showed her entering and exiting the frame until the last time she “reappeared walking along the leading edge of the left wing and directly in front of the number one engine.”
Edwards “was subsequently pulled off her feet and into the operating engine.”
Ten minutes before the flight arrived, the ground crew told the investigators a “safety briefing” was conducted. This was not the only time safety, and best practices were discussed that day with the ground crew, which the ramp agents were a part of.
“A second safety ‘huddle’ was held shortly before the airplane arrived at the gate to reiterate that the engines would remain running until ground power was connected,” the document read. “It was also discussed that the airplane should not be approached, and the diamond of safety cones should not be set until the engines were off, spooled down, and the airplane’s rotating beacon light had been extinguished by the flight crew.”
According to the report, an American Eagle Ground Operations manual used by her team was updated in July 2022. In it, there is also a warning for employees to never approach the 15-foot area in front of a running jet engine called the “ingestion zone.”
Edwards was survived by her three children and mother, who started a GoFundMe to help with the unexpected costs of raising her young ones and funeral costs. Of the requested $25,000, the campaign has raised almost $100,000.
Friends, family members, co-workers, and strangers have all donated. Industry associations and agencies like Aerovine Digital Media, Transport Workers Union Local 570, Envoy Air LGA and others have dropped the largest donations for the care of the children.
Her life’s legacy was captured by Richard Honeycutt, vice president of CWA District 3 and chair of CWA’s Passenger Service Airline Council, who gave remarks days after her premature demise.
Honeycutt said, “Courtney was a valued member of her team and our union. She was away from her family working on New Year’s Eve, ensuring passengers got to where they needed to be for the holidays.”
“She represents the very best of our CWA airport members, who constantly make sacrifices to serve the flying public. Her memory will live on in the hearts and minds of her fellow CWA members and those closest to her,” he concluded.