Paragraph 12 states: "complained to a friend and fellow pilot in St. Louis before the flight that he "hadn't slept in three days," according to the safety board's report. He was on medication for depression and anxiety, the safety board said".
Posted on Tue, Jan. 14, 2003
Report: FAA officials unduly pressured pilot who later crashed
By KEVIN MURPHY
The Kansas City Star
SPRINGFIELD - An inspector general recommended Monday that two federal aviation officials be disciplined for unduly pressuring the pilot of a plane that crashed near Branson in 1999, killing six persons.
Inspector General Kenneth Mead of the Department of Transportation said the two officials, based in Kansas City, abused their authority with excessive scrutiny of veteran pilot Joe Brinell's ability to fly and to give flight lessons.
Brinell was flying a plane that crashed in the Ozarks hills, killing everyone on board.
Mead recommended that the officials be disciplined, demoted or fired.
U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt of Springfield, who called for the investigation and released the report Monday, said the Federal Aviation Administration treated Brinell badly and was not candid later about its actions.
"This case involved poor judgment, it involved abuse of power, it involved, in my opinion, an attempt to cover up those things that occurred prior to the accident itself," Blunt said. "It's apparent from the report the FAA harassed Joe Brinell, contributing to the accident."
Blunt, now the majority whip in the U.S. House, called for a full FAA investigation and asked that its local policies for dealing with pilots and flight instructors be reviewed within 30 days.
Reacting to the report, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro of the regional office in Chicago said, "We will give serious consideration to its findings and determine the next course of action."
The officials in question are not named in the report but work at the FAA's Flight Standards District Office in Kansas City, which regulates pilots and flight instructors in the region.
Brinell, director of aviation science at College of the Ozarks, was flying two faculty members, their spouses and a student pilot from St. Louis back to the college when the crash occurred four miles short of the runway at the Point Lookout, Mo., airport on Dec. 9, 1999.
In 2001, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that pilot stress, fatigue, rainy weather and poor visibility contributed to the crash of the twin-engine Cessna Citation.
Brinell felt extreme stress from the FAA scrutiny and complained to a friend and fellow pilot in St. Louis before the flight that he "hadn't slept in three days," according to the safety board's report. He was on medication for depression and anxiety, the safety board said.
The inspector general said FAA officials wanted to strip Brinell of his pilot examiner's status, re-examine his pilot proficiency and inspect his logbooks, apparently because he had not shown proper respect to them in the past.
"In his 26 years as designated pilot examiner...and his 28 years as a pilot for the college, Mr. Brinell had an unblemished FAA enforcement record," inspector Mead wrote.
Mead said Brinell had gotten along well with FAA supervisors in Kansas City until July 1998, when a new person took over, after which "the relationship reportedly deteriorated for reasons that remain unclear."
Mead said the supervisor reportedly told a friend of Brinell's that "he does not show me the respect I deserve as a supervisor. We are going to change that. We are going to get his attention."
The supervisor told the inspector general investigator that he did not recall making those statements but that it was possible he did, Mead stated. The supervisor said, "I had heard (Brinell) didn't like the FAA, bad-mouthed the FAA and didn't want to fly in accordance with its rules," Mead said.
The supervisor was promoted to manager of the flight district office in Kansas City during the investigation and was promoted again to his current post as acting assistant regional flight standards manager.
The inspector general's report does not name either of the FAA employees, and the FAA's Kansas City office referred all questions to the media office of the FAA in Chicago.
Grace Brinell, a commercial pilot and Brinell's widow, filed a federal lawsuit in September seeking $1 million in damages from the FAA. She claims the FAA was negligent in its treatment of her husband and that airport tower employees in Springfield were negligent in not informing Brinell that he was flying too low in his airport approach. In its response, FAA lawyers denied negligence and said federal employees bore no blame for the crash.
Grace Brinell, who appeared with Blunt at a news conference at the Springfield airport Monday, said the report substantiated her allegations.
"I feel it is scathing, quite damning for the FAA, as it should have been," Brinell said.
Brinell said she hopes to "change the way the FAA does business in the future."
Brinell said she did not think her husband should be faulted for flying on little sleep and while on medication the National Transportation Safety Board said causes drowsiness.
"If you think about how you perform daily, there are probably days when you shouldn't even drive to the office. Do you make that decision? No, you think you are all right because you've always been OK, because you are professional, because you are highly trained, very capable. If you are truly all those things, you believe you are capable. I don't think he was even aware of how much toll the stress was taking."
To reach Kevin Murphy, call (816) 234-4464 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.