Federal Aviation Administration officials called in more air traffic controllers from the agency's Palmdale facility for drug tests and questioning Saturday after the reassignment of 34 others to desk jobs because of allegations they used cocaine and hashish during off-duty hours.
"They're trying to implicate more people, and they called more in today," said Carl Grundmann, a controller who said he had accompanied a colleague summoned Saturday for questioning.
Spokesmen for the FAA management at the facility were not available for comment Saturday, but one FAA official who asked not to be named confirmed reports that the investigation was continuing and expanding.
"So far, everyone has agreed to take the tests, because they really have no choice," Grundmann said. "They were told that if they don't take them, they could be fired for insubordination--disobeying an order.
"The FAA security people appear to be fishing, trying to play them off against one another, trying to get them to finger each other," said Grundmann, who is a regional representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn., a group seeking to gain certification as union representative for the nation's air traffic controllers. Grundmann said he has not been implicated in the investigation.
"The questions they're asking are very leading, very intimidating," Grundmann said. "We don't have a problem with the fact that the FAA has to be responsive to . . . the possibility drugs have been used. But it appears that (the investigation) is getting out of hand."
The investigation was first announced officially Friday by Don Early, manager of the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Center, whose secretary has been linked to the probe.
Early, who declined to provide any details of the investigation, said that it was initiated as a result of allegations from "sources both within and outside" the FAA, adding that he expected the probe to continue for some time.
Early said that there were no signs of suspected drug use in any of the controllers' professional conduct, and stressed that none of them has been charged with a crime or arrested.
Reported Link to Party
Early declined comment on reports that the allegations of drug use stemmed, at least in part, from a party co-hosted by two controllers at a home in the Palmdale-Lancaster area April 17.
One of the hostesses, who spoke on the condition that she not be identified, said about 25 of the controllers in question attended the party. She said many of them believe that the investigators focused on the gathering after one of the guests--Karen McIntosh, who works as Early's secretary at the FAA facility in Palmdale--was subsequently arrested on suspicion of drug-dealing.
The FAA has declined comment about the arrest, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has confirmed that McIntosh was arrested at her home in Palmdale July 8, along with her husband, Steven.
Deputies said a search warrant was served at the time of the arrest and some hashish and cocaine were recovered at the McIntosh home.
Meeting for Support
Grundmann said many of the controllers who had been reassigned were gathering at a home near the FAA facility for "sort of a mutual support meeting" Saturday night. Others who planned to attend the meeting said the group might enlist some legal support in their efforts to clear themselves from suspicion.
The 31 men and three women reassigned to desk jobs thus far constitute about 20% of the controllers currently employed at the Palmdale center, which is one of 22 such facilities in the United States. The centers are responsible for tracking commercial, military and general-aviation aircraft outside the immediate jurisdiction of individual airports.
The center in Palmdale is responsible for for the area extending roughly from Fresno to the Mexican border and from hundreds of miles offshore to southern Utah and the southern half of Nevada.