ALPA Annual Air Safety Awards Banquet

Air Line Pilot, November/December 2001, p. 16
By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor

ALPA honors its members who advance aviation safety while flying the line or in volunteer work on their days off.

"Tonight is a night of great celebration as we commemorate ALPA’s 70 years of safety," the Association’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, began. "Seventy years of hard work, activism, and total dedication to making aviation the safest mode of mass transportation in the world today."

Addressing an audience of more than 200 line pilot air safety volunteers, their spouses, family members, and friends, plus guests from the aviation industry and government agencies, Capt. Woerth welcomed attendees to ALPA’s annual Air Safety Forum Awards Banquet.

This year the ceremony was held in mid-August at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Capt. Woerth took a few minutes to reflect on the challenges ALPA has faced—and its successes—in improving aviation safety during the Association’s seven decades.

ALPA, he noted, "has advocated greater and improved airline safety through the years—in the halls of Congress and Parliament, in the White House, in the International Civil Aviation Organization, and in numerous boardrooms—and created winning partnerships along the way with the ‘power hitters’ in the government, the airlines, the aircraft manufacturers, other labor unions, and beyond.

"The sum of this advocacy, diligence, and hard work, from the days of the Jenny to today’s jumbos," he declared, "is a safer aviation industry, benefiting everyone who flies."

But, he asked, "Who are the individuals within ALPA who were up to the task, doing the work behind the scenes, attending the myriad meetings, appearing first on the scene at airline accidents, lobbying persuasively, and volunteering their limited personal time to enact real and positive changes that made airline and airport operations safer?"

These individuals, he said, "are line pilots—just like you and me. Many of these individuals are in the audience tonight—airline pilots who decided to do something of substance. Individuals who became active in ALPA’s air safety structure—at the local, national, and international levels. Individuals who made a real difference through their efforts."

Capt. Woerth asked the banquet attendees to help him "take a moment to recognize some of the most esteemed volunteers—all former ALPA Air Safety Award honorees—in the audience tonight."

These distinguished ALPA safety volunteers, from Capt. Vic Hewes, (Delta, Ret.), recipient of the 1961 ALPA Air Safety Award, to Capt. Ray Brice (United), recipient of the 1999 Award, rose to a thunderous standing ovation.

"I would like to personally thank each of you for being part of our special celebration," Capt. Woerth added. "All of you are the stuff that makes ALPA great. These honorees have passed the torch, so to speak, on to the next generation of line pilots—to continue our union’s absolute commitment to improving airline safety, and to ensuring that pilots’ interests are never compromised and always are considered."

Wrapping up his opening remarks, Capt. Woerth said, "The individuals we honor tonight are, indeed, fulfilling the legacy of the past, and their stories are truly inspirational. They are men and women whom I consider heroes."

Capt. Woerth presented the following awards to well-deserving Association members:

Superior Airmanship Award

On the night of Dec. 11, 2000, Capt. John Vreeken and First Officer Elizabeth Hallworth were the flight crew of American Eagle Flight 3215, Saab 340 service from Los Angeles to Monterey, Calif. Only about 30 minutes into the flight, they heard a loud popping noise, followed by a sharp thud that resonated through the airframe. The pilots then realized that the No. 1 engine was running but not producing thrust.

After quickly assessing the situation, Capt. Vreeken shut down the No. 1 engine by turning off the fuel flow and tried to feather the propeller. Unfortunately, the prop would not feather. The pilots then tried to feather the prop with the manual feather switch. They went through the appropriate checklist, but the prop remained in fine pitch, creating a very high asymmetric drag load on the airplane.

Capt. Vreeken declared an emergency and asked air traffic control for the distance to the nearest airport. He was advised that they were 15 miles north of Paso Robles Municipal Airport. The pilots prepared to divert there; they checked the weather and looked at the airport instrument approach plates, as neither pilot was familiar with this off-line airport.

The two pilots also knew that they were flying over hazardous terrain, and maintaining altitude with the No. 1 prop stuck in fine pitch would be extremely difficult. Flying a missed approach at Paso Robles would be virtually impossible. Adding to their problems, the sky over Paso Robles was overcast, requiring that they fly an instrument approach.

Unfortunately, the air traffic controller’s first attempt to vector the pilots to the VOR DME approach to Paso Robles’ Runway 19 put the airplane too high to permit them to continue the approach to a landing. The pilots decided to switch to the VOR approach from the southeast that would require them to circle to land. Using superior crew resource management, Capt. Vreeken and F/O Hallworth worked together to ensure that the runway lights were turned on, to double-check the surface wind, and to keep the flight attendant and passengers apprised of the situation.

"As a team," Capt. Woerth summarized, "they landed the Saab 340 safely despite the catastrophic powerplant failure they were forced to contend with—an absolutely amazing achievement!

"As many of you in the audience know, this type of acute propeller problem has been the cause of several accidents that resulted in the loss of lives and severe hull damage."

Later, the pilots learned that the No. 1 propeller gearbox had cracked and that all the oil had leaked out during their arduous flight. Thus they had had no way to feather the windmilling prop.

"On behalf of ALPA," Capt. Woerth said, "I would like to present you with Superior Airmanship Awards for your exemplary actions in safely landing your aircraft with no injuries to crew or passengers and damage to the aircraft."

Capt. Vreeken accepted the plaque with humility. "I can’t help but feel a little unworthy [of receiving this award]," he said. "Other pilots would have done the same thing we did. Most importantly, I want to thank the good Lord for watching out for us that night."

F/O Hallworth added, "John and I and the 13 passengers and flight attendant are alive because teamwork does work."

Superior Airmanship Award

It also worked for Capt. Burke Edwards and First Officer Patrick Foreman on TWA Flight 24, MD-80 service from Seattle to St. Louis, on the night of Dec. 17, 2000. The airplane was in cruise flight at FL330 over the Rocky Mountains when numerous electrical problems transformed a routine flight into a near catastrophe.

Suddenly, Capt. Edwards and First Officer Foreman saw their primary flight displays go blank. The No. 1 generator went off line, and the circuit breaker for the generator would not reset. The airplane had left Seattle with the No. 2 generator inoperative, as was allowed by TWA’s minimum equipment list (MEL). The two pilots tried several times to restore AC electrical power by following the emergency checklists, to no avail.

"These initial electrical malfunctions," Capt. Woerth pointed out, "caused a virtual laundry list of failures in several of the MD-80’s other primary systems—the autopilot, the autothrust system, the standby horizon, the captain’s altimeter. No lighting, including the emergency flood lighting in the cabin, was functioning. No engine instruments were operational. No heading and navigation information was available. No electric horizontal trim, no automatic cabin pressurization, no standby instrument lighting.

"To say that this airplane was crippled," Capt. Woerth declared, "is an understatement." The pilots declared an emergency and diverted to Billings, Mont., where the longest runway is 10,528 feet long.

When the pilots began their descent to Billings, F/O Foreman flew while Capt. Edwards tried several times to restore AC electrical power. The only way he was able to "restore" power—and then, only intermittently—was when he held the left generator switch in the reset position. By holding the switch down, the pilots were able to lower the landing gear, set the flaps to 15 degrees, and retrim for landing.

"Against the odds, they made a successful—and safe—approach and landing with no injuries to the crew or passengers, and no damage to the airplane," Capt. Woerth continued, "although they landed at 165 knots—about 40 knots above the normal touchdown speed for the MD-80 at that weight and flap configuration.

"As this plaque states," he said, "‘your exemplary actions in safely landing your aircraft with no injuries or damage bring great credit upon yourself, your airline, and our Association.’ We applaud your heroic actions, professionalism, and superior crew coordination on that memorable flight—an evening you will likely never forget."

F/O Foreman was generous in his thanks—to "God for my being here tonight," to "Capt. Edwards for having faith in my ability to land the airplane," to "the Salt Lake City [Center] controller who helped us find a suitable [landing] airport," to the TWA training department, and to his family "for their love and support." He added, "I had two main thoughts during the emergency —‘keep ’er right side up, and get ’er on the ground.’ I hope there’s not another occasion for me to earn this award again."

Capt. Edwards put improvements in airline safety in the perspective of family history.

"In 1937, on the eve of my father’s aviation career," he said, "my grandfather told my father, ‘There’s no place on this earth I need to be [that would require him to board an airplane]. My grandfather was no Luddite; he held an opinion popular at the time, because people were dying too often on the airliners of the day. He never did get on an airplane.

"We are standing on the shoulders of all those who went before us," Capt. Edwards declared, "to show us the way to the safest way to travel."

ALPA Presidential Citation

Moving to the second category of awards, Capt. Woerth explained, "Like last year, we are going down a slightly different path to present ALPA Presidential Citations to two deserving flight crews who exhibited extraordinary courage and professional character during extremely trying circumstances."

On March 16, 2000, Capt. Gene Rowe and F/O Robert Porkolab were the flight crew of Alaska Airlines Flight 259, MD-80 service from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco.

"The ordeal that Capt. Rowe and F/O Porkolab endured clearly illustrates the potential danger and life-threatening nature of dealing with disruptive passengers during a flight," Capt. Woerth declared. "Only because of these pilots’ outstanding leadership, consummate professionalism, and ability to keep their cool during a very heated and tense situation do we have a happy—and a safe—ending to their amazing story."

Flight 259 proceeded normally until an obviously disturbed and physically very large male passenger became agitated. Despite efforts by flight attendants and passengers to calm him, the passenger became more and more violent, threatening to kill the passengers and crash the airplane as he wildly pushed his way down the aisle to the cockpit door.

The disturbed passenger stormed through the locked cockpit door and immediately tried to reach the MD-80’s fuel control handles to shut down the engines. While this pandemonium ensued, Capt. Rowe maintained both his professional composure and control of the airplane while asking for help via the public address system. At the same time, F/O Porkolab grabbed the airplane’s crash ax and tried to physically restrain the passenger from grabbing the flight controls.

"No fewer than seven other crewmembers and passengers answered Capt. Rowe’s request for help," Capt. Woerth said. "They helped F/O Porkolab subdue and pin down the out-of-control passenger until the pilots made an emergency landing in San Francisco. During the chaos in the cockpit,
F/O Porkolab’s hand was injured, but thankfully, this was the only injury to the crew and passengers during this tumultuous flight."

Federal law enforcement officers took the passenger into custody. He was later found to be suffering from encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which caused his delusions and related bizarre and dangerous behavior on Flight 259.

In presenting the ALPA Presidential Citation plaques to Capt. Rowe and F/O Porkolab, Capt. Woerth added, "As your Master Executive Council said in its nomination for this award, you ‘cooperatively upheld the highest standards of an airline pilot.’ I agree 100 percent."

ALPA Presidential Citations

Capt. Randall Tilly and F/O Perry Redmond received citations, too, and as Capt. Woerth pointed out, "their tale of bravery is different. It involves an incident that transpired on the ground. This episode shows the absolute importance of captain’s authority—and also shows how a lapse in judgment can cause a runway incursion or major accident."

On the foggy night of Dec. 6, 1999, Capt. Tilly and F/O Redmond were the flight crew of US Airways Metrojet Flight 2998, a B-737. They were waiting for clearance from the air traffic control tower at Green State Airport in Providence, R.I. Because of the low fog over the airport that evening, the tower controllers could not see aircraft on the airport and had to rely on pilot reports to track aircraft position on the ground. Capt. Tilly and F/O Redmond were holding short of the runway when the pilots of a B-757 that had just landed reported they were unsure of their position while taxiing to the terminal.

The B-757 captain had taken a wrong turn and was headed back toward the active runway. The flight crew and the ground controller were both confused about the location of the airplane. Because of the confusion, the B-757 flight crew could not communicate their position to the ground controller and the flight crews on other aircraft with any certainty.

However, the tower controller cleared Flight 2998 to take off on the same runway to which the disoriented B-757 crew had returned. Capt. Tilly and F/O Redmond politely but pointedly refused to accept the takeoff clearance until the actual location of the "lost" B-757 was confirmed—and the airplane was safely at the gate.

"Without the precautions that both Capt. Tilly and F/O Redmond took, an enormous disaster could have occurred on the runway," Capt. Woerth asserted. They earned the ALPA Presidential Citations, he said, for "demonstrating exceptional situational awareness and judgment in avoiding a potentially catastrophic runway collision at Providence.

"I’d like to personally commend you for putting safety first and for using good judgment during a nerve-racking, pressure-filled situation," he added.

ALPA Air Safety Award

Capt. Woerth presented the 2000 ALPA Annual Air Safety Award—the Association’s highest recognition of a line pilot air safety volunteer—to Capt. Ken "Mule" Adams (Delta) (see "Capt. Ken ‘Mule’ Adams," August).

The prestigious award honors Capt. Adams for "significant contributions to flight safety while representing the best interests of airline pilots through his many years of service as a member of the ALPA international safety structure. His unselfish participation, leadership, and progressive insight have greatly contributed to many of the Association’s successes in air safety and accident investigation. His tireless efforts have also been instrumental in establishing a world-class safety structure at Delta Air Lines."

Capt. Woerth said, "Earlier in my remarks, I recognized the former Air Safety Award recipients in the audience who are with us here tonight. The contributions of each of these ALPA ‘all-stars’—too many to mention—have helped ALPA’s air safety structure become the great, powerful, and effective organization it is today, and have truly made a difference in making flying safer for every passenger and every crewmember from Boston to Beijing.

"Capt. Ken ‘Mule’ Adams is a ‘hall of famer’ in his own right," he continued. "I am thrilled to add his name to the plaque in the Herndon office with these esteemed airmen and the other outstanding volunteers who helped our union achieve so many successes, hit so many home runs, in the area of aviation safety.

"If you want a perfect example that one individual can ‘move a mountain,’ can enact positive changes touching the lives of countless others, Ken is your man.

"Ken has not only moved many a mountain," Capt. Woerth explained, "but during his 15-plus years as a dedicated volunteer within the ALPA air safety structure, he has led, and/or contributed to, a virtual mountain of achievements, including some of our union’s greatest success stories:

• "the Association’s ‘One Level of Safety’ campaign;

• "our land-and-hold-short (LAHSO) campaign;

• "ALPA’s work to institute Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) programs at airlines; and

• "our push to implement Aviation Safety Accident Plans at airlines.

"Ken has also participated in numerous accident investigations," Capt. Woerth noted, "and has served as the lead pilot investigator of some of the most prominent in recent history, including the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia.

"Ken is IFALPA’s chief investigator in the ongoing investigation of this crash—now in its third year. And he has been well lauded for his absolute dedication and performance during the course of the investigation. In fact, due to Ken’s excellent interpersonal skills and reputation as a first-class accident investigator, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada provided pilot volunteers unprecedented access to this investigation."

Capt. Adams’s fellow pilot accident investigators have an enormous amount of respect for the leadership he has shown during the Swissair investigation. Capt. Woerth quoted what the Air Nova MEC chairman, Capt. Nick DiCintio, said in his MEC’s nomination of Capt. Adams for this award: "Ken has unselfishly given much of his personal time and energy in order that we may someday identify the cause of this unfortunate accident. Ken’s able leadership brought together many diverse groups and cultures in the course of this large-scale investigation. His expertise…continues to be the voice for pilots worldwide pertaining to safety in the Swissair 111 accident."

"Accident investigation is at the heart and soul of Ken’s air safety volunteerism," Capt. Woerth continued. "Although he started his first ALPA volunteer position as an air

ort liaison representative in 1984, Ken discovered his true calling in 1986, when he attended ALPA’s Basic Accident Investigation School and became a volunteer with the Delta pilots’ accident investigation team. He participated in his first airline accident investigation about two years later, helping to investigate the takeoff crash of a Delta B-727 at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport."

Although accident investigation is the root of Capt. Adams’ passion to make flying safer, he has exerted considerable influence in other areas as well. He served as Central Air Safety Chairman (CASC) for the Delta pilots for two terms, from 1989 to 1993 and from 1999 to June of this year.

"During those years," Capt. Woerth pointed out, "Ken had a tremendous amount of responsibility on his shoulders, working with a pilot group as large and diverse as Delta’s. But he definitely was up to the task—he worked tirelessly and was a capable and admired leader.

"Ken built the volunteer air safety structure at Delta to one that is the envy of our union—and one that has been emulated at other pilot groups—namely at Delta’s code-share partners, Atlantic Southeast and Comair," Capt. Woerth said. "He also has helped numerous other ALPA pilot groups, in both the United States and Canada, strengthen their own air safety structures and accident investigation capabilities. His influence in this area has been far-reaching and profound.

"And, to Ken’s benefit, from the earliest days of his tenure as Delta’s CASC, he knew that ALPA’s strength does come from within—from its volunteers. He knew that a strong structure is composed not of the quantity of volunteers, but of the quality of those recruited and trained. Recruiting, reaching out, and training the right people for the job is one of Ken’s greatest talents, one of his greatest gifts."

Capt. Chuck Giambusso, then Delta MEC chairman, wrote in his MEC’s recommendation that Capt. Adams receive the 2000 Air Safety Award, "Mule has been instrumental in developing what is arguably the most robust safety volunteer pilot structure in the world. His perspective is to find suitable volunteers and to educate and develop them into ardent, committed safety advocates."

"Ken also has a knack for getting the job done—and the dedication to ensuring it is done right—from start to finish," Capt. Woerth noted.

"One of his crowning achievements as Delta’s CASC was reaching an agreement between his pilots and the company [management] giving ALPA the final authority to arbitrate solutions for crew rest facilities in the carrier’s entire fleet, including the new Boeing Triple Sevens. This agreement took more than two years to accomplish, but was well worth it. The end result was groundbreaking not just for Delta pilots, but also for the entire airline industry."

Early in his career, Capt. Adams also realized the power and necessity of sharing safety-related information among pilot groups—particularly among code-share partners. He was the first Delta CASC to invite pilots from all of the carrier’s code-share partners to the Delta MEC’s annual air safety workshop in 1991.

"Ironically, this philosophy was put to task at this very first workshop," Capt. Woerth recalled. "During the event, an Atlantic Southeast EMB-120 Brasilia crashed near Brunswick, Georgia, killing everyone aboard. Ken immediately put the Delta pilot group’s investigation machine into high gear, offering the full support of its members to the ASA CASC."

This experience gave Capt. Adams the insight that two levels of safety existed in the U.S. airline industry at that time—with a huge gap between the levels for large and small carriers. His subsequent work and advocacy was part of the impetus behind ALPA’s "One Level of Safety" campaign.

The experience also led to the creation of ALPA’s Regional Safety School, now a component of the Association’s Basic Safety School. Capt. Adams was the first ALPA Training Programs Coordinator, or TPC.

Comair’s MEC chairman, Capt. J.C. Lawson, in his MEC’s nomination of Capt. Adams for the Air Safety Award, said, "Ken’s willingness and ability to serve as the TPC is indicative of his commitment to ensure the future supply of ALPA air safety volunteers for the next generation of ALPA pilots."

Another of the initiatives Capt. Adams led while serving as Delta’s CASC that had a wide-reaching effect beyond his pilot group dealt with aircraft noise. He used his connections with the FAA Administrator at that time, Admiral Jim Busey, to put a stop to the unsafe "pilot pushing" that was occurring at John Wayne Airport-Orange County in Santa Ana, Calif.—a product of unrealistic noise restrictions.

"Airlines jockeyed to position themselves to comply with the noise-abatement procedures, including a ridiculously unsafe procedure involving Delta’s B-757s," Capt. Woerth explained. "The real-life application of this procedure not only scared passengers, it also put the crews and passengers at risk. After Delta’s management refused to consider different options, Ken took the FAA Administrator on a thrill ride—jumpseating from Orange County. After the ride, Delta stopped using this unsafe noise-abatement departure procedure—thanks to Mule’s personal intervention and fortitude."

He continued, "I think that it is fitting to end my comments about Ken with a brief testimonial from his very good friend and colleague, and former ALPA Executive Air Safety Chairman, Capt. Paul McCarthy (Delta): ‘Ken’s talents rest in his abilities as a recruiter, motivator, and leader in Delta’s air safety effort. His talents have spilled over to Atlantic Southeast, Comair, and other ALPA regional pilot groups, and really to the far corners of our organization. Ken has an unusual style of management, but it always comes from the heart—and it is always about flight safety. I know from too many personal experiences to mention that Ken can always be counted on to be there—and to get the job done. He is an irreplaceable asset to ALPA’s air safety structure.’"

Capt. Woerth concluded, "I’d like to ask Ken’s wife, Loreen, to join her husband on stage. We cannot overlook the tremendous sacrifice of our ALPA volunteers’ families. Without the support of spouses like Loreen, the work of our volunteers would simply not be possible."

Capt. Adams agreed, "I’ve been lucky to have the support of my family—my lovely wife, Loreen, and her father and mother. I remember one day early in the Swissair 111 investigation. Loreen and I had gone out to Peggy’s Cove. She squeezed my hand and said, ‘I want you to find out what happened, so it doesn’t happen again.’ That’s what we’re all about."

"In closing," he said, "I’d like to give you my idea of who we are. We’re the ones whose office is at the pointy end of the aluminum go-faster tube. We’re the ones whose enemy is time. [In an emergency,] we are the ones who have to reach deep into our hearts and grab the fear growing there and hold it tightly. We know that we have to think, we have to act, and we don’t have much time. So we blink, take a deep breath, and breathe the fear away.

"That’s who we are. That’s what we bring to the table. That’s why a pilot’s input is necessary if we are to have a complete safety solution."