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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Woman sues airline after flying on plane with power problems

    SEATTLE — A Bellevue, Wash., woman has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines over what she says was a terrifying flight to New York on Sept. 22, 2008, when the airplane flew on battery power until it had to make an emergency landing in Chicago.

    “”It changed my whole world,”” said Jewel Thomas, 55, who had been a frequent traveler but hasn’t been able to get back on an airplane in nearly two years. Even hearing the sound of a jet flying overhead “”freaks me out,”” said Thomas, who announced the lawsuit Wednesday in the Seattle office of her attorney, Alisa Brodkowitz.

    Thomas had worked for Microsoft for six years, but said she has had difficulty working and is on disability.

    The lawsuit, which seeks no specific damages, was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. A spokesman for American Airlines was not immediately available for comment.

    Thomas said she was flying to New York to apply for another job with Microsoft.

    Shortly after takeoff, warning lights indicated power problems with several in-flight systems, according to the lawsuit.

    The flight crew referred to the Quick Reference Handbook and followed the recommended procedure, switching four of the plane’s main electrical power buses to battery power, according to the lawsuit. The handbook said the battery would provide power to the airplane for 30 minutes, although the power from the engines kept the battery operating longer.

    Eventually, the lights in the airplane went off, the public address system did not work and the phone to the cockpit was out of order. Flight attendants had to pass notes under the cockpit door to communicate with the flight crew, according to the suit.

    FAA transcripts reveal the pilots told flight attendants they had a problem and were still working to solve it, but it was “”weirding us out, we need a beer,”” according to the lawsuit.

    About 11 a.m., the plane was out of battery power, said the suit, and 20 minutes later the captain asked to divert to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

    “”Passengers called loved ones on their cell phones to tell them goodbye and that they loved them,”” Brodkowitz said in a news release. “”The turbulent flight became even more so. Passengers prayed loudly, cried and braced for landing.””

    Thomas was sitting in an exit row and when the jet skidded off the runway, blowing out seven of its eight tires, she didn’t know whether she should engage the emergency exit.

    There were no injuries among the airplane’s 190 passengers, and Brodkowitz doesn’t believe any other lawsuits have been filed over the incident. She said she hopes to speak to many of the passengers as part of her lawsuit.

    “”The reason we filed this lawsuit is it was completely preventable and resulted in injury to Jewel Thomas,”” said Brodkowitz. “”She has prolonged trauma caused by human error.””

    She said the jet should have returned to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when pilots learned of the power problems.

    Thomas, through tears, said she missed her uncle’s funeral because she couldn’t fly to Arizona, and when a friend was dying, the friend wanted Thomas by her side, but she couldn’t fly. “”This hurt me so badly. I really wanted to be with her,”” said Thomas. “”My life is over. I want my life back. I want to be Jewel again.””

    Vickie Norton, a captain with United Airlines, said via telephone at the news conference that she didn’t agree with the American Airlines pilot’s decision to continue the flight

    “”There was a primary lack of systems knowledge,”” she said, adding that the pilots should have landed at the nearest airport when they learned of the electrical problems.

    After the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board issued two directives. The NTSB required Boeing to revise its 757/767 procedures and training to include specific steps that would avoid complete loss of battery power. “”These steps should include landing at the nearest suitable airport before the power is depleted, and actions to take if landing is not possible,”” said the NTSB.

    It also directed that once Boeing has revised its procedures and training, all operators of 757 and 767 airplanes should adopt them.

    The American Airlines pilots, ages 50 and 49, had been with the airline since 2001.

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