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Brother: Co-pilot worried before Puerto Rico crash

December 5, 2013

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A U.S. co-pilot who died this week in a small plane crash near Puerto Rico’s north coast had previously expressed concerns about maintenance and other safety issues, his brother said Thursday.

Steve Gullberg, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri, became worried about the safety of IBC Airways planes after he joined the company about three months ago, his brother Greg Gullberg said in a telephone interview.

“He had expressed concerns about how he doesn’t know if these planes are safe to fly,” Greg Gullberg said, adding that his brother had not shared those concerns with company officials. “This was supposed to be his first big flying job. He didn’t want to take it to management and rock the boat.”

Representatives with the Fort Lauderdale, Florida company said the human resources director was handling media requests but was not available for comment. Along with providing cargo services, IBC Airways also has an exclusive contract to provide civilian air service to and from the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

NewsChannel 5 in St. Louis quoted an unidentified IBC Airways spokesman as saying that people should not assume mechanical error caused the crash and that the company is awaiting results of a federal investigation of the accident.

The plane’s pilot was also killed in the crash. Family members identified him as 35-year-old Jason McLaughlin of Weston, Florida.

The plane had left the Dominican Republic late Monday when it crashed in the coastal town of Arecibo as it headed toward Puerto Rico’s main international airport. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the capital of San Juan.

No details of the investigation have been released. The FAA identified the aircraft as a Fairchild SA-227-AC cargo plane.

Greg Gullberg, who began flying with his brother when they were teenagers, said Steve Gullberg lived in Puerto Rico and knew the route well.

“They had flown it numerous times,” he said. “They knew what they were doing.”

He said his older brother attended space camp as a boy and his childhood room was painted with airplanes and cockpits.

“Steve has wanted to be a pilot since forever. He always wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps,” he said of their father, a retired American Airlines pilot.

A former IBC Airways pilot who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the airline industry said he also worried about the safety of the planes when he worked for the company.

“The planes are very old,” he said. “They’re always having mechanical problems, having to be fixed.”

The FAA in October 1986 awarded the plane that crashed a certificate of airworthiness that was valid through 2017.

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