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Crashes Leave Some Passengers Leary of Flying DC-10s

July 29, 1989

Undated (AP) _ The crashes of two DC-10s in eight days have travel agents around the country hearing from vacationers wondering what type of aircraft they’ll be flying.

Most decide to grin and bear a DC-10 flight after talking it over, agents say.

″They’re expressing concern but the most important thing to them is convenience,″ said agent Deb McNulty of Salem, Mass. She said she had a ″flurry″ of calls about DC-10s.

″The DC-10 has created a problem for us with our leisure travelers,″ said Deidre Green of Shamrock International Travel in Fort Worth, Texas.

Business travelers ″know they’ve got to get wherever they’ve got to get on the best schedule,″ but those who fly less frequently are questioning the type of aircraft they’ll be on, she said.

″As long as the fare’s about the same, they are changing,″ Green said.

A United Airlines DC-10 crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, killing 111, and a Korean Air flight crashed in fog Thursday in Tripoli, Libya, killing at least 75.

Initial investigation of the Sioux City crash indicated a tail engine blew apart and cut off the flow of hydraulic fluid needed to control the jet.

Thursday night, a United DC-10 with 240 people on board experienced hydraulic problems but landed safely at Los Angeles International Airport. And Friday, a Canadian Airlines DC-10 with 254 people aboard lost a wing wheel but landed safely at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Some passengers who saw diagrams of where Sioux City survivors were sitting in the plane are asking for specific seats, Green said. ″I had a man yesterday decline a reservation on a flight because he couldn’t get a seat over the wing.″

″Some people take it really serious,″ said Yolanda Zalitis of Garber Travel in Boston who reported at least two people had asked for different planes because of nervousness.

″What people are doing is inquiring about it,″ said Elaine Tynus, owner of Lakeshore Travel in Chicago. ″Some of my own personal clients I’ve called and asked them if they want to change. Some people have no desire to.″

Crashes may give some passengers jitters, but there’s no real reason for fear, said Capt. Frank Petee, a former pilot and a director of USAir’s Fearful Flyers Program.

An average 18,000 commercial flights carry more than 1 million people daily in the United States and safety records are improving, not slipping, he said.

″When you get right down to it, any airplane that’s certificated by the government, by the Federal Aviation Administration, is a safe plane to fly on. It really is,″ said Petee.

The Sioux City crash was a ″one in 2 billion chance that something that catastrophic would happen,″ Petee said.

Agencies that handle primarily corporate bookings reported far fewer calls of concern. And some agencies reported no increase in calls about airline equipment or declined comment, citing company policy against commenting on crashes.

McDonnell Douglas, maker of the DC-10, on Thursday rejected a call by the International Airline Passengers Association to ground the aircraft to check for structural problems.

After a DC-10 crash in Chicago in 1979, the IAPA won a federal court order grounding the DC-10 fleet for more than a month while inspections were performed on some parts of the aircraft.

Petee, whose airline does not fly DC-10s, said he could not speak authoritatively on the aircraft’s design, but reiterated his belief that certified planes are safe to fly.

″Safe is a relative term,″ Petee said. ″If you wanted to be 100 percent safe in your life you would’t fly, you wouldn’t take a shower, you wouldn’t walk up and down stairs, you wouldn’t ride a bicycle. All those things are much more dangerous than flying ever would be.″

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