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Panel Considers Infant Safety on Airplanes

August 2, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ David Tourtellotte is convinced that a child safety seat saved his daughter from certain death last month when an airplane engine exploded, propelling metal shards through the cabin and killing two people.

``This is what saved my daughter’s life, and this can save other children if you decide to make it so″ said the Virginia father, holding up a child safety seat, to House lawmakers.

It was July 6 that David and Kathleen Tourtellotte sat in the rear of the Delta airliner in Pensacola, Fla., waiting to depart, when the blast occurred. Two people sitting in front of them died and shrapnel peppered the side of the child seat occupied by their tiny daughter, Emma, 15 months old.

``When the engine exploded that day, debris was flying everywhere,″ David Tourtellotte told the House Transportation aviation subcommittee Thursday.

``Had Emma not been in a child safety seat there is absolutely, positively no doubt in our minds that that chunk of debris would have hit Emma and resulted in serious, if not fatal, injury ... That car seat saved her,″ he said.

Federal rules permit children under age 2 to be carried on the lap of an adult, but Tourtellotte said his wife persuaded him to pay for a seat for his daughter so she could be secured in the car seat they had brought along.

The subcommittee is considering a bill by Rep. Jim Lightfoot, R-Iowa, to require that all children be secured in safety seats aboard aircraft.

Lightfoot pointed out that in cases of a crash or strong turbulence a parent is often unable to hold onto a child, who could easily be injured or killed.

He noted the deaths of unrestrained youngsters aboard the 1989 crash of a United Airlines plane in Sioux City, Iowa, and a 1994 USAir crash in Charlotte, N.C. In addition, Lightfoot said, several cases of severe injuries have been reported involving children thrown from their parents’ grasp during turbulence.

Tourtellotte told the subcommittee that ``while it is too late for those children who have died in the past, it is within your power to give those children of future plane accidents a statistical chance.″

Margaret Gilligan, deputy associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said that requiring restraints for small children on airplanes could expose children to other risks.

According to the studies, the requirement that all children under 2 have their own seat would result in about 20 percent of families who now fly choosing to travel by car instead, in order to save money. That would expose them to a much more dangerous mode of travel, Gilligan said.

Parents who hold their children on planes don’t have to buy seats for them, but parents who use safety seats often do. Some airlines let parents use open seats.

Mandating seats for all children would save five lives over 10 years while resulting in 82 more deaths of infants and adults in auto accidents, Gilligan said.

Barry Sweedler of the National Transportation Safety Board countered, saying the FAA conclusions are based on an ``incomplete analysis.″

Airlines would likely offer price incentives to parents in order to avoid losing the business of the paying adults, he argued.


The bill is H.R. 1309.

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