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Whistle-Blower Sues Alaska Airlines

Aviation: Mechanic whose claims triggered criminal probe of crash says carrier defamed him on Web site by portraying him as incompetent.

September 24, 2000|From Associated Press

SEATTLE — A whistle-blower at Alaska Airlines has filed a $20-million lawsuit accusing the carrier of defamation for allegedly portraying him on its Web site as incompetent.

The lawsuit was filed in California's Alameda County Superior Court by John Liotine, a lead mechanic at the company's Oakland, Calif., maintenance facility.

Liotine complained to the Federal Aviation Administration in late 1998 that the Seattle-based airline faked maintenance records. His claims triggered a criminal investigation that now includes the Jan. 31 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which killed 88 people.

Alaska officials would not comment on the lawsuit, saying they had just received it. The company has consistently disputed Liotine's contentions about maintenance practices.

Liotine became a figure in the investigation into the January crash off the California coast when it was revealed that in 1997 he had recommended replacement of the plane's jackscrew and gimbal nut, which control the up-and-down movement of the horizontal stabilizer--a part suspected of causing the crash.

The lawsuit contends that Alaska libeled Liotine by saying on its Web site that his call to replace the parts had been incorrect. The statement implied that Liotine was incompetent, the lawsuit says.

The complaint also says Alaska Airlines did not disclose that it had actually ordered a replacement part, apparently ordering more tests when it ran into trouble obtaining the part. In addition, the lawsuit says, airline records falsely imply that the repair was completed and that critical documents, including logs and parts-requisition forms, are missing.

Those issues are already under review by a grand jury in San Francisco. The National Transportation Safety Board is also trying to determine the cause of the crash.

Alaska placed Liotine on paid leave last year, saying he had become disruptive. Liotine's lawsuit contends that he conformed to proper standards and did what was necessary to "protect the flying public."

His lawsuit also accuses Alaska Airlines of suggesting that he went to federal authorities in retaliation after being passed over for promotion by two supervisors he has accused of misconduct.

The FAA upheld one of Liotine's allegations and revoked the mechanic's license of an Alaska supervisor. That action has been stayed, pending an appeal.

FAA officials are still studying Liotine's other allegations. They are reviewing whether to uphold a proposed $44,000 fine against the airline and recommendations to revoke the licenses of two other supervisors.

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