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Santa Monica News

Congressman Demands SMO Inspection
Posted by Amanda Macke on Oct 2, 2013 - 8:08:32 PM

SANTA MONICA—Congressman Henry Waxman is demanding an immediate safety inspection of the Santa Monica Airport by government officials in the wake of Sunday’s plane crash and Monday's government shutdown.


Representative Waxman sent a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael P. Huerta on Monday, September 30—the day after a twin-engine Cessna Citation 525 crashed into storage hangars and burst into flames, according to a release by the city of Santa Monica.


The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office told the Canyon News the crash killed everyone on board—two men and two women. The coroners are in the process of matching dental and chest X-rays with those of the deceased and will be able to announce the identities of the victims “in a few days.”

Santa Monica Airport


In response to the tragedy, Congressman Waxman is demanding in his letter to Administrator Huerta to evaluate safety conditions at the airport and implement safeguards needed to protect the community, pilots and passengers, according to the letter transcript posted on the representative’s government website. Although the agency has neglected previous requests, “the fatal crash should be a wakeup call” for the FAA to make “the safety of the Santa Monica Airport an urgent priority,” wrote Congressman Waxman.


Those urgent demands will likely go unanswered by federal agencies since the U.S. government was officially shutdown at midnight on October 1.


Canyon News spoke with Debra Eckrote, Chief of the Western Pacific Region of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Office of Aviation Safety about the federal inspection of the Santa Monica airport crash. She said two NTSB air safety investigators, accompanied by FAA inspectors, “gathered as much information as they could” from Sunday (the day of the crash) until Tuesday morning when they “received their furlough notices to cease investigation.” Kori Blalock Keller of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) also confirmed to Canyon News that no FAA inspectors are currently working due to the government shutdown.


Eckrote said the wreckage was moved from the hangar and remains secured until her office receives further notice to continue the investigation.


Chief Eckrote did state, however, that although most employees are suspended, “we do have some employees exempt on the Safety Board” that can bring back certain inspectors if investigations pose “further risk to loss of life or property.”


Congressman Waxman hopes to make this case in Washington D.C. where he spoke with NTSB Acting Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman on October 2, according to a press release on his government website. The website states that Acting Chairman Hersman told Representative Waxman that “the furloughs had made the NTSB investigation extraordinarily difficult but she would look to see what options were available to her to ensure that the investigation continues with minimal delay.”


The release includes the transcript of the letter he sent to Hersman where he urges the NTSB Acting Chairman “to expand the definition of ”˜perishable’ evidence to include all relevant witness interviews.” He wrote, “I have led many congressional investigations and know that recollections fade and change with time. Quick action now would help ensure the accuracy and thoroughness of the investigation later.”


Canyon News spoke to Chairman David Goddard of the Santa Monica Airport Commission who is skeptical of the need to push the government agencies to act amidst the shutdown. “FAA and NTSB investigations usually take about six to nine months to announce the cause of an accident,” Goddard said, “So I’m not sure that a delay of one to two weeks would make that big of a difference.”


Congressman Waxman remains persistent and is proposing that the plane crash investigation be expanded to include the entire airport. He wrote asking Acting Chairman Hersman to have NTSB inspectors assess “the safety of the airport layout, the safety of the existing runway length for propeller planes and different classes of jet aircraft, the impact of the lack of runway safety areas, and the mitigating effects of an engineered material arresting system if one had existed” to finally address “the extensive community concern” of Santa Monica residents.


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