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Firm Says It May Be Responsible for Sending Canisters on Airliner

Aviation: President of Santa Barbara Aerospace says company is cooperating in probe of incident last month in which oxygen generators were illegally transported.

May 16, 1997|SCOTT LINDLAW | ASSOCIATED PRESS

A jet maintenance firm said Thursday that it may have illegally shipped oxygen canisters on a Continental Airlines passenger flight last month.

Robert Chickering, president of Santa Barbara Aerospace, said that his firm sent a four-crate shipment of aircraft parts by truck from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. Continental then flew the crates to Houston in the plane's cargo hold.

The Federal Aviation Administration has said the flight took place on April 15, while the airline has said it was a day later.

Chickering refused to comment beyond his prepared statement, which didn't specify whether the oxygen generators were part of the shipment.

But when asked by phone whether his firm was acknowledging possible responsibility for what he called "the purported incident," he answered, "Yes."

The FAA and Continental said earlier this week that they are conducting investigations. Chickering said his firm is cooperating.

No one at Santa Barbara Aerospace has been disciplined, he said.

Continental reported that seven oxygen generators were illegally stowed in the cargo area of a DC-10 during last month's flight. The generators feed masks that drop into planes' passenger areas during emergencies and are installed above the cabin. They were found 10 days after the flight.

The canisters were capped and their firing pins had been removed, making escape of the gas unlikely, Continental spokeswoman Karla Villalon said.

Such canisters were banned from passenger planes' cargo holds shortly after ValuJet Flight 592 crashed into the Florida Everglades in May 1996, killing all 110 people on board.

Investigators believe the ValuJet crash was caused by a fire fueled by poorly packaged oxygen generators.

On Wednesday, one day after disclosure of the Continental incident, the Air Transport Assn. announced that airlines will begin installing fire suppression equipment in some cargo holds, perhaps as early as this fall.

On Thursday, members of a House panel grilled federal regulators on the issue of smoke detectors and firefighting equipment in cargo holds, with one congressman calling delays in installing such gear "pathetic."

The DC-10 that illegally carried the oxygen tanks was equipped with smoke detection and suppression equipment, as are 49 other planes in Continental's fleet, Villalon said.

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