Sunday, February 27, 2005

NTSB Takes Another Look At Death of Denise Bogucki

I wrote earlier this month of the National Transportation Safety Board's report on the death of Denis Bogucki. The report had blamed Bogucki for her own death, stating that she had chosen to use the incorrect equipment to push back an airplane from a gate, causing the accident that pinned her against a plane. The union objected, saying she had been using the only equipment available, and that she shouldn't have been working alone. Virginia OSHA cited the company, Northwest Airlines, and Northwest instituted changes, including requiring two people for pushbacks.

Now, citing "new information," the NTSB is taking a second look at the Bogucki's death. The board said on its Web page that the "investigation is currently being reevaluated due to new information." Board officials declined to comment further.
The report states that she used a tow bar that was too short for the tug she was driving.

But the union contends that she was using the only equipment Northwest provided to do the job.

"You don't put out false facts on an accident," said Bob Bennek, safety and health director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Air Transport District 143, which includes Norfolk.

Jeanne Earley, Bogucki's mother, told The Virginian-Pilot the report portrayed her daughter "like she was some dumb thing who didn't know what she was doing."

Before she died, Northwest workers had complained that staffing cutbacks were jeopardizing safety. Staffing was not mentioned in the federal report.

Shortly after the accident, Northwest began requiring two people for pushbacks. The airline also replaced the open-cab tug used in the accident with a closed-cab one.

Still, the union contends, conditions at Northwest's Norfolk operation have not improved significantly. The station is still understaffed, officials said, and despite having a new tug, the tow bars are still the same length.

The union said that the airline has begun installing protective roll bars on all of its tugs nationwide.

"I'd say that's the single biggest thing that could have prevented her death," Bennek said.