Preliminary report released on deadly Montgomery airport accident

NTSB report indicates several safety protocols not properly followed
The NTSB noted several safety protocols that do not appear to have been followed in the Dec. 31 deadly incident.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 4:22 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report into the deadly New Year’s Eve incident at Montgomery Regional Airport in which a member of ground crew personnel was “ingested into the engine” of a parked airplane.

The victim, since identified as Courtney Edwards, a 34-year-old mother, was part of ramp personnel for Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, when she was killed in the incident.

Courtney Edwards was named as the victim of the New Year's Eve fatal industrial accident at...
Courtney Edwards was named as the victim of the New Year's Eve fatal industrial accident at Montgomery Regional Airport.(Donielle Prophete)

The NTSB report details several safety protocols that do not appear to have been followed, which could have protected those in the vicinity of the airplane from injury or death. The report indicates two safety meetings were held shortly before the plane arrived, including a “huddle” just before it reached the gate, to remind the crew that the engines would remain running and that the aircraft should not be approached during that time.

American Eagle flight ENY3408 arrived from Dallas Fort Worth to Montgomery Regional Airport around 2:40 p.m. following an uneventful flight, the report stated. The flight crew decided to leave both engines running for a required two-minute “engine cool down period.”

After the plane stopped and the parking brake was applied, the captain gave a hand signal to connect the airplane to ground power, as it was not equipped with a working onboard auxiliary power unit, the report noted.

As the captain was beginning to shutdown the engine on the right side, an alert in the cockpit indicated the forward cargo door had been opened, prompting the plane’s first officer to open his cockpit window to inform the ramp agent that engines were still running.

Shortly afterward, the captain “saw a warning light illuminate and the airplane shook violently followed by the immediate automatic shutdown of the number 1 engine,” which was located on the plane’s left wing.

The NTSB report notes that the accident sequence was captured on surveillance video. The camera recorded four ramp agents during the incident, including one who “appeared walking towards the back of the airplane with an orange safety cone where she disappeared from view.”

A portion of the report detailing the victim’s final moments notes:

“The ramp agent from the back of the airplane reappeared and began walking away from the airplane and towards the left wing tip where she disappeared from the camera’s field of view. The marshaller could be seen backing away from the airplane’s open forward cargo door and the ramp agent from the back of the airplane reappeared walking along the leading edge of the left wing and directly in front of the number one engine. She was subsequently pulled off her feet and into the operating engine.”

The video also showed another missed safety protocol, to stay back while the airplane’s rotating beacon light was still illuminated.

“Throughout the course of the accident, the airplane’s upper rotating beacon light appeared to be illuminated,” the report detailed.

No date has been given for when a final report will be released. The NTSB did provided a readout of the airline’s operating manual as part of its investigation, which notes the following:

The American Eagle Ground Operations Manual, Revision 3 dated July 13, 2022, states in part:

“To Keep Employees Alive and Aircraft Intact, You Will:

NEVER approach an aircraft to position ground equipment next to an aircraft or open cargo bin doors until the engines are shut down and the rotating beacon(s) turned off, except when conducting an approved single engine turn.

Jetblast/Ingestion Zones

Jet engines spin with powerful speed and are extremely dangerous until spooled down. The area in front of the engine is called the ingestion zone. The ingestion zone for all aircraft types is 15 feet. You must never enter the ingestion zone until the engine has spooled down.

Spool Down

The engine must be spooled down before entering the ingestion zone. This can take between 30- 60 seconds, depending on aircraft type. This applies to both wing and fuselage/tail mounted engines. You must wait until you can clearly see the individual fan blades before entering the ingestion zone.”

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