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Investigators Meet For Hearings On Flight 1141 Crash

November 29, 1988

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ The pilot of a wrecked Delta jetliner told federal officials looking into last summer’s crash that his crew’s flight preparations were adequate, although they may have bent some of the rules.

Delta Capt. Larry Davis, 48, was among the first witnesses to testify in the four-day public hearing before National Transportation Safety Board investigators, which began today at an Irving hotel and drew some 200 people.

The Delta Air Lines Boeing 727 crashed Aug. 31 on takeoff from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, killing 14 people. Ninety-four people survived.

Davis said the plane had no apparent problems, although a fuel gauge didn’t work. But the captain said he and his crew followed written procedures to compensate for the faulty gauge.

″The flight was normal. No problem at all to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport″ from Jackson, Miss., Davis said. The plane was bound for Salt Lake City.

NTSB board of inquiry technical panelist Jeff Gorney, an aerospace engineer, questioned Davis’ handling of pre-flight preparations, including his failure to initiate required checklists and failure to call out the completion of every checklist.

Gorney also said a flight attendant was allowed into the cockpit when the plane was waiting to take off.

Davis admitted the seeming deviations from written regulations, but he still stressed that he thought he and the crew had complied with airline instructions.

For instance, the Delta veteran of 23 years said he had used hand signals instead of calling out completion of each checklist and made a required takeoff briefing at the gate instead of doing it as the plane was on the runway.

″I like to get as much done as possible before we get into the position of getting rushed,″ said Davis.

He admitted that allowing a flight attendant into the cockpit was against a policy declaring that the cockpit be a ″sterile area″ once it has left the gate. But he noted that the plane was ″waiting in a line of traffic, moving up a space at a time.″

Davis was questioned for 63 minutes before NTSB officials declared a break. He was told he would be asked to recount what he had done the previous day, how he had slept the night before the crash, and details of events up to the time of the crash.

Thirteen people died as the plane split open and the fuselage exploded in flames just off a runway. One man died later of injuries suffered as he tried to make his way back onto the burning plane in an unsuccessful attempt to save his trapped wife. In addition to Davis, the co-pilot and flight engineer survived and were expected to testify.

Jim Burnett, chairman of the board of inquiry, stressed in his opening statements that no conclusions are to be made by the panel during its hearing, but that officials were only gathering information for a final report to be released in six months.

But officials of the pilots’ union said they believe investigators may have decided on the first day of their investigation that the crew was to blame.

″If you do a quick and dirty investigation, the verdict is going to be quick and dirty - pilot error,″ Jim Gray, Delta spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said Monday at a news conference.

The union argues the plane may have had a malfunction called a ″split-flap configuration,″ in which the wing flaps stick in opposing positions - one extended, one retracted - robbing the plane of power and lift.

Gray said judging by the list of witnesses and exhibits the NTSB scheduled for the hearing, it appeared as though the federal board already has pinpointed a cause and was looking at such matters as Delta’s flight safety program. NTSB spokesman Mike Benson responded that the pilots association and other involved parties had all agreed to the witness list two weeks ago.

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