US investigators have disclosed that a ramp worker was fatally injured after being sucked into the engine of an Embraer 175 at Montgomery airport despite the ground crew’s holding specific engine-safety briefings a few minutes before the aircraft arrived at the gate.
The safety briefings were conducted because the Envoy Air twinjet’s auxiliary power unit was inoperative, and the pilots had opted to leave both General Electric CF34 engines running for a 2min cool-down period.
According to preliminary findings from the National Transportation Safety Board, ground personnel held a safety briefing 10min before the aircraft arrived from Dallas on 31 December.
A second safety ‘huddle’, it adds, took place just before the jet reached the gate to reiterate that the engines would remain running until the aircraft was connected to ground power.
This discussion also stressed that the aircraft should not be approached, nor should safety cones be positioned, until the engines were off and spooled down, and the pilots had turned off the rotating beacon.
Three ramp workers were present – but clear of the safety area – as the aircraft approached. After parking, the captain gave a hand signal to connect ground power and began shutting down the right-hand engine.
Cockpit instruments then warned that the forward cargo door, located on the right side of the fuselage, was being opened. The first officer opened a window to tell the ramp workers that the engines were still operating.
The captain informed the first officer that he would keep the passenger seatbelt sign illuminated until the aircraft was connected to ground power and the left-hand engine was turned off.
But immediately after these remarks the aircraft “shook violently”, says the inquiry, and the left-hand engine automatically shut down.
Surveillance camera footage shows the aircraft’s nose-wheel chocked and the worker who marshalled the aircraft walking to the forward cargo door.
Another ramp worker is seen heading towards the rear of the aircraft with an orange safety cone, while a third worker gestures to the back of the aircraft with his hand.
The worker from the rear then reappears and begins walking to the left wing-tip. The marshaller backs away from the open cargo door as the worker walks along the left wing’s leading edge and directly in front of the left-hand engine – before being pulled off her feet and into the powerplant.
“Throughout the course of the accident, the airplane’s upper rotating beacon light appeared to be illuminated,” says the inquiry.
Another ramp worker, who had been located near the right-hand wing-tip, saw the worker who walked to the rear of the aircraft with the cone and stated that she almost fell over from the engine exhaust while he attempted to alert her to stay clear.
The ground agent who chocked the nose-wheel had also tried to wave away both the worker who approached the cargo door as well as the one with the cone at the rear of the jet, because the left-hand engine was still running.
Envoy Air was operating the service under the American Eagle brand. The carrier’s ground-operations manual instructs personnel never to approach an aircraft – either to position equipment or open cargo doors – until the engines are shut down and beacons extinguished, except during an approved single-engine turn.
It warns that the engine ingestion zone is 15ft, and this must never be entered until individual fan blades can clearly be seen, adding that engine spool-down can take 30-60s.
None of the 59 passengers and four crew members on board the aircraft (N264NN) was injured, and the inquiry says the damage to the jet was minor.