Federal Aviation Administration officials told Congress yesterday there was nothing in the FAA's files that could have predicted an engine falling off a DC10 as happened in the May 25 Chicago crash that killed 275 people.
"I don't believe the defect some of us think caused this accident was contained in the computer," M. Craig Beard, a senior member of theFAA's post-crash team, told the House Government Operations subcommittee on government activities and transportation.
FAA officials noted there had been a history of problems with the pylon support holding the wing engines to the McDonnell Douglas jumbo jets, but said that none of those problems were related to the accident itself.
Rep. John L. Burton (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee, charged that the FAA "exposed passengers and crew members to potential danger" by allowing the DC10 to continue flying after the Chicago crash. The FAA grounded the plane last Wednesday after a series of inspections turned up recurring structural cracks and evidence of a "possible design problem," in the words of FAA Administrator Langhorne M. Bond.
Between the time of the accident on May 25 and the final grounding order June 6, the FAA ordered three separate inspections for some or all of the domestic DC10 fleet, but the planes were permitted to return to service once they passed inspections or underwnet repairs.
"We cannot act on supposition," Bond said. "As information became known, we acted. As each layer was pulled back, the FAA acted immediately."
Burton also said there was a "communications problem" within the FAA itself because Bond professed ignorance of a document Burton produced from a five-foot-high stack of documents the FAA provided to the subcommittee.
That document, from an FAA field office June 1, said the "original manufacturing assembly" of one part of a DC10 pylon assembly was suspect because of "improper stacking of the PLI." That was later described as a series of washers. It was not clear from Burton's reading of the document or the subsequent questioning of witnesses whether that problem had any bearing on the cracks that were discovered during the DC10 inspections.
Burton was attempting to prove that on June 1, five days before the FAA ordered the DC10s grounded, there was evidence of a design problem.
In an acrimonious exchange that has come to typify Burton-Bond sessions, Bond said before he answered questions about it that "it would be helpful if you'd give us this document."
Burton rose in his chair, waved the document around and said, "It would be helpful if you'd read things that affect air traffic safety."
In other testimony yesterday, James E. Dunne II, managing director of the Airline Passengers Association, called for the resignation of Bond and for a complete overhaul of the U.S. air safety system.
Dunne's group, which claims 40,000 to 50,000 members sought and received a federal court order grounding the DC10.
Bond declined to make any estimate of how long it would be before the FAA's current investigation into the adequacy of the certification of the DC10 and the reliability of maintenance would be completed. Those items, at a minimum, must be done before the DC10 can fly again.