28 Seconds: The Mystery of USAir Flight 427
Part Three: Roxie, Trixie and the fat guy

STORY BY BILL ADAIR OF THE TIMES STAFF

It had been six months since the crash of the 737 and Tom Haueter's investigation was stymied. His prime suspect was the rudder, but he couldn't be sure what made it move. The pilots? Or was there a gremlin in the 737, a mechanical flaw that could bring down another jet?

Birds inspired us to build airplanes, but our feathered friends still control the skies. A flock of birds can take down a jetliner and give us a humble reminder that humans were not meant to fly.

Ever since a sea gull collided with a Wright brothers plane in 1912, birds and planes have had an uneasy coexistence. A flock of starlings caused the 1960 crash of a Lockheed Electra in Boston. Speckled pigeons brought down a 737 in Ethiopia, killing 35 people. The laws of physics transform a bird into a missile. When a 4-pound turkey vulture hits a plane flying at 260 knots, the bird delivers the force of 14 tons.

A bird expert told the NTSB that it was possible that migrating geese were at the same altitude as Flight 427. Investigators found no feathers in the wreckage, but they discovered a suspicious brown clump that glowed under a blacklight, which indicated it could be from a bird.

Chief investigator Tom Haueter was skeptical. "Let's bring the theory up now and bury it," he said. "I don't want to have it haunting me a year from now."

It was time to call in the world's premier feather expert, a tiny woman at the Smithsonian Institution named Roxie Laybourne.

She won't reveal her age, but she's been studying feathers for more than 50 years. She can examine a feather that's been chewed up by a jet engine and tell if it came from a laughing gull or a Franklin's gull. She can identify many by touch. Eagle feathers are smooth, vultures are rough.

It was Laybourne who identified the whistling swans that collided with a DC-10 and the herring gull that broke through the canopy of a Harrier military jet. Her only evidence was a tiny fragment of down from the pilot's shoulder patch.

When Laybourne has a guess about a breed, she walks through the darkened hallways of the Smithsonian "Range," a creepy room filled with 650,000 dead birds. She pulls out a drawer, picks up a few bird cadavers and – voila! – a match.

Laybourne took the dime-sized clump and examined it under the magnifying glass she wore around her neck. She took a closer look under her microscope. No, Laybourne said, nothing here but dirt and vegetation. No bird.

* * *

As Brett Van Bortel flew to Pittsburgh, the plane hit turbulence.

"Nervous flier, huh?" the man next to him said. "They say your odds of dying in a plane crash are higher than winning the lottery."

Brett couldn't let that go. He pulled a card from his wallet about his scholarship fund in honor of Joan, with her picture on it.

"That plane that crashed in Pittsburgh," Brett said, "my wife was

on it."

It was his first flight since Joan's death four months earlier. The NTSB was holding a hearing on the crash in Pittsburgh, and Brett decided it was time to confront his fears. He chose American Airlines because it had no 737s.

After Brett mentioned Joan's crash, the man told Brett how his daughter had been molested by his ex-wife's new husband. Brett had heard a lot of sad stories since Joan died. When people found out about Brett's tragedy, they wanted to share their own tales, like they were reassuring him he wasn't alone.

ANewsweek photographer told Brett that his brother overdosed on drugs. A cab driver said his parents died when he was 12. A woman who handled Joan's pension said a drunken driver put her brother and sister-in-law in comas and killed their child.

Tragedies everywhere. Until this happened, Brett had no idea that for so many, life could be filled with such heartache.

At the Hilton in downtown Pittsburgh, he kept to himself, not getting involved with other family members who were starting a support group. He shared their goals but didn't want to dwell on the crash any more than he had to.

The families were furious about USAir's poorly trained employees, their slow response the night of the crash and the airline's refusal to release Flight 427's seating chart.

The format of the NTSB's "public hearing" also aggravated them. Families assumed they would be able to ask questions, like at a city council meeting. But at NTSB hearings, the public was to be seen, not heard. It was the safety board's chance to explain the evidence. There would be no questions from the crowd.

The families took their complaints about USAir to the news media. Calling themselves the Flight 427 Air Disaster Support League, they stood before the TV cameras, holding color photos of relatives who died in the crash.

"We believe the system is deeply flawed," said Marita Brunner, the organizer of the group, whose brother-in-law was on the plane. "We are demanding that this process be taken away from the airline."

NTSB investigators had never been close to victims' families, feeling that their job was to solve crashes, not provide grief counseling. But when NTSB Chairman Jim Hall heard the families were unhappy, he arranged a private session with them.

He and Haueter got an earful. The families recited a long list of complaints and suggested that in future crashes, the government appoint a "family advocate" to represent relatives.

They found a sympathetic friend in Hall, a Democrat close to Vice President Al Gore who was an unknown in transportation circles. When he was appointed to the NTSB, a Washington Post columnist called him "a politically connected white male Democrat whose only transportation experience apparently is a driver's license."

In aviation circles, Hall seemed like a lightweight because he didn't talk like an engineer. His investigators would drone on about dual concentric servo valves, then Hall would recount a folksy story his mother taught him. It didn't help that he had a dog named Trixie in his office. A brown and white Welsh corgi, Trixie occasionally pooped on Hall's carpet.

The truth was, Hall was no lightweight. He was savvy about the self-interest of Boeing and the pilots union, and his connections at the White House and in Congress gave him clout to get the money and staff the NTSB needed. It just didn't look that way when he was throwing tennis balls for Trixie.

Hall promised the victims' families that he would help. But they weren't about to let up. They vowed to take their concerns all the way to President Clinton.

* * *

With the investigation boiling down to a debate about why Flight 427's rudder suddenly twisted left, Boeing witnesses at the hearing spent hours explaining how the rudder was controlled by a unique valve the size of a soda can. The engineers recounted the endless tests since the crash and how the valve had passed them all.

For Jean McGrew, Boeing's chief engineer for the 737, the hearing was a lesson in the new politics of aviation safety. He sized up the situation when he walked into the Hilton ballroom and saw the families sitting together. He decided the hearing wasn't to advance the investigation, it was just a charade for the NTSB to showboat.

On the witness stand, McGrew spoke proudly of the 737, like he was boasting about his kid's SAT scores. The plane's rate of hull losses (Boeing's euphemism for the word crash) was extremely low. Besides, he said, the valve had passed every test. "That leads us, based on that data, to think that the rudder was doing what it was asked to be doing."

In other words, the pilots screwed up.

Boeing had complied with an NTSB request for a list of other 737 incidents, but then the NTSB discovered that Boeing knew about still more incidents it had not included. Hall was furious, but he didn't ask McGrew about it in private. He waited until McGrew was on the witness stand, then tore into him.

"When we end up in a situation, Mr. McGrew, just to be straight with you, that we request information and then another party sends us information that is pertinent that we didn't get from you, it causes concern."

McGrew felt ambushed. Earlier that week, he had given the NTSB a thorough explanation why the incidents were missed. He felt Hall was grandstanding, trashing Boeing to get publicity.

McGrew was in a delicate position. Boeing was part of the investigation under the NTSB's unusual "party system," which enlisted help from the airlines, unions and aircraft manufacturers. Boeing could lobby the safety board, but it had to be careful not to ruffle feathers.

Still, McGrew and Co. were troubled by the NTSB's fixation on the plane. So two weeks after the hearing, Boeing launched a campaign to focus on Flight 427's pilots. In a letter to Haueter, the company said the NTSB should explore whether the pilots mistakenly stomped on the left rudder pedal.

For Haueter, the timing was perfect. His investigation had sunk into a lull; the letter was just the jolt he needed to kick-start things. He faxed it along to the pilots union and got the response he expected. The union went ballistic.

"We don't want to see the reputations of the pilots compromised because (the NTSB) can't find an answer to what caused the accident," said Herb LeGrow, a USAir pilot in Clearwater who served as the union's coordinator for the crash. He was ready to take on Boeing.

"It's David and Goliath at this point," he said. "If it gets down and dirty, I'm willing to fight. We'll sharpen up our slingshots and fight them."

He fired off his own letter to the safety board, accusing Boeing of trying to divert the investigation. LeGrow said pilots Peter Germano and Charles Emmett III had their hands on the wheel, "fighting for control of an aircraft that was uncontrollable. As they watched the ground rush up in the windscreen, they fought for the lives of their passengers."

The dueling letters revealed a sharp rift in the investigation.

Boeing had billions of dollars at stake. It wasn't just the lawsuits that the company feared. What especially worried Boeing was the impact it would have on 737 sales if people believed the plane was unsafe. The 737 accounted for nearly half of all the planes Boeing made. With two mysterious accidents – the USAir crash and, three years earlier, a United Airlines crash in Colorado Springs – it wouldn't take much for the public to lose confidence in the plane.

McGrew often said that if the investigators found that the 737 malfunctioned, he would quickly fix the airplane. But he

didn't want his plane's reputation smeared if the pilots caused the crash.

For the union, the stakes were simple: pride.

It dated to the union's roots in the 1930s, when pilots were forced to fly into bad weather and then got blamed when their planes crashed. That angered the union, which felt the government used pilots as scapegoats.

The union was determined not to let that happen on USAir 427. The pilots would not take the fall.

* * *

Some days for Haueter went like this:

9 a.m. Boeing calls and whines about the investigation.

10 a.m. The pilots union calls and whines.

11 a.m. It is USAir's turn, followed by a second Boeing whining session after lunch.

Haueter believed in the party system, but there were too many days when all the parties behaved like children.

Even within his own agency, Haueter felt thwarted.

He couldn't prove why the rudder moved left, but he felt the NTSB had uncovered enough problems with the 737 to warrant major changes. Five months after the crash, Greg Phillips, the NTSB hydraulics expert, had drafted a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration that called for major improvements to the 737's rudder system.

As a government watchdog, the NTSB had no real power. Its clout depended on its recommendations to the FAA. Although those recommendations got accepted more than 80 percent of the time, there was a fierce rivalry between the two agencies. Even when the FAA agreed with an NTSB recommendation, the FAA rarely gave credit to the safety board.

Haueter knew the FAA was writing its own safety study of the 737, relying heavily on the NTSB's work. He didn't want the FAA to get the glory. "These guys are going to beat us to the punch with our data," Haueter told Bud Laynor, the NTSB's deputy chief of aviation safety.

But Laynor blocked the recommendations. The 737 had more than 70-million flight hours with no crashes blamed on the rudder problem. Without proof, Laynor said, it was premature to order changes. He wouldn't budge.

Phillips complained loudly that the fixes were crucial to make 737s safe. Haueter felt so strongly that he went over Laynor's head to Chairman Jim Hall. But Hall was unwilling to challenge Laynor, who was regarded as one of the board's best technical minds. The 737 safety fixes would have to wait, gathering dust on Laynor's desk.

* * *

The phone rang just as Haueter and his wife, Trisha Dedik, were headed out on a Friday night. It was one of Haueter's bosses. They ended up talking for two hours.

So much for Haueter and Dedik's Friday night. She was livid. The investigation interrupted all their plans. Worse, she was afraid it was destroying her husband.

They had met the way many Washingtonians fall in love – in a car pool. On one of their first dates, she saw that Haueter was a different breed. He was waiting in the kitchen while she got dressed. When she came downstairs, he had taken apart her kitchen faucet and was studying its inner workings.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I just wanted to figure out how it worked," he said.

That was Haueter: figuring out how things worked – or why they didn't.

When Haueter joined the NTSB in 1984, he didn't expect to stay long. It was just a paycheck. But he discovered that the NTSB was surprisingly powerful. His recommendations to the FAA got results.

Dedik worked at the U.S. Department of Energy, in charge of "The List," the countries that were allowed to get nuclear technology. As she put it, her job was "to make sure the Husseins of the world can't get their hands on nuclear weapons." Haueter's work led to safer airplanes. Dedik kept the world from getting nuked.

One of the things that attracted her to Haueter was that he wasn't married to his job like so many Washington men. But as the investigation neared the one-year mark, she saw that he had changed. He was obsessed.

They would be having a perfectly nice conversation and she would see his mind drift away as he contemplated some damn

theory about the damn accident. It bugged her that people from the NTSB and Boeing called him at home day or night.

These guys – and nearly all of them were guys – treated her like she was Haueter's secretary.

"I don't care about the office, I don't care about 427, I don't care about anything," she told him once. "The victims are dead. There is nothing you can do about it. You know what? It's not going to make any difference whether you solve this today or tomorrow. There is nothing that is so important that you have to deal with it right now."

Some nights she would give him 10 minutes to talk about the crash and make him promise not to bring it up again.

"Is it so awful to have an investigation unsolved?" she asked. "Does that mean you're a failure?"

"Yes," he said.

* * *

A year had passed since Brett lost Joan, and still he hadn't dated anyone. He wasn't sure he ever would.

"If I meet someone in the future that I want to marry, she will know deep down inside that this would not be happening, we would not be having children, had I not lost the first love of my life," he said.

He reluctantly returned to Pittsburgh in September 1995 for the one-year anniversary. He would have preferred to avoid the memories, but he wanted to honor Joan at a memorial service on the hill where she died.

Before the service, Brett visited the Sewickley Cemetery, where USAir had built a monument to the victims. The monument itself had been a disaster.

A few weeks after the crash, USAir said it wanted to buy the Hopewell crash site for a memorial. Several victims' relatives put their plans to buy the land on hold when USAir said it was interested.

A month later, the airline scrapped the idea, much to the dismay of the families. Instead, the company bought three big tombstones at the cemetery, 10 miles from the crash site. The inscription said,

IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR
FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS
INTERRED HERE WHO DIED
SEPTEMBER 8, 1994

No mention of the crash, no mention of USAir. The families were furious.

The airline said it was trying to be sensitive and did not want to give families another painful reminder. Finally, the airline built a granite bench about 20 yards from the tombstones that said,

THIS MEMORIAL IS
DEDICATED TO THE
PASSENGERS AND CREW ON
USAIR FLIGHT 427

(Click here for the names of the passengers and crew of USAir Flight 427)

When Brett arrived at the cemetery, workers were planting 132 tulips that would honor the victims. Brett chatted with a woman whose husband was on the plane. She said she often visited the memorial early in the morning, when the cemetery was peaceful.

Brett found it anything but peaceful. The cemetery sat beneath the flight path to the Pittsburgh airport. As he gazed at a memorial to one of the worst plane crashes in the nation's history, USAir planes roared overhead.

That evening, Brett boarded one of the first buses that climbed the gravel road and stopped at the crash site. He walked down the hill toward the place he called ground zero, where the plane's nose hit the ground.

As the service began, a 737 happened to pass overhead. Brett looked up at the sky. At 7:03, the time of the crash, church bells pealed throughout the city.

* * *

They had tested everything from bombs to birds. Now it was time to test fat guys.

The theory went like this: A fat passenger could have stepped through the floor of the USAir plane and onto a cable that moved the rudder. Crazy as it sounded, it had some credence. Maintenance records showed a temporary floor patch in the first few rows of seats. A huge man, possibly 300 pounds, had been on a previous flight.

Investigators scoffed at the theory: Some joked that the guy would have to have worn spiked high heels. But Haueter was willing to try just about anything because his best theory – a malfunction in the rudder valve – had not been proven.

They gathered in a hangar in Seattle in February 1996. A ratchet was hooked to the rudder cable of a 737 so they could add

weight in 50-pound increments and watch

as the man grew from skinny to obese.

The guy started at 50 pounds, more of a kindergartener than a fat guy. No rudder movement.

At 150 pounds, the rudder barely budged. At 250 pounds, it moved 2 degrees, not even close to the 21 degrees it had moved on Flight 427.

So much for blaming the fat guy.

Across the street, Boeing was conducting an unusual lobbying campaign with the chairman of the NTSB.

Boeing test pilot Michael Hewett, a bulky former Navy pilot, led Chairman Hall into a flight simulator and pointed him to the right pilot's seat. Hall could pretend he was Charles Emmett, the first officer on Flight 427. He could take control of the plane and try to keep it from crashing.

Hewett came across as brash and cocky. His not-so-subtle message to Hall was that any pilot worth his salt could have saved Flight 427. When the plane rolled left, the USAir crew should have turned the wheel to the right and pushed it forward to let the airplane gain speed. The plane would have lost altitude, but everyone would have survived. Simple.

Hall buckled himself in, with John Cox of the pilots union in the observer seat. Hall had invited Cox along because he knew Hewett was going to do a hard sell. He wanted Cox to provide a counterpoint.

Hewett started by demonstrating the recovery himself. Now it was Hall's turn.

When the rudder suddenly twisted left, Hall followed Hewett's instructions and turned the wheel to the right.

"Hold it! Hold it!" Hewett told him.

The simulator started to plunge toward the ground but Hall stopped the roll and

brought the nose back up. "Ease it out," Hewett said. Hall had saved the plane and

132 lives.

Cox spoke up to explain why the pilots would make the crucial error of pulling

back on the control wheel.

"The airplane is not responding the way they want it to," Cox argued. "The windscreen is full of the ground and it is understandable that they would try to reduce the number of variables that they are facing."

"But," said Hewett, "anybody who has ever been trained in a jet knows, with the stick shaker going off, the only way to recover is to let up on the stick. His first reaction should have been to push up on the stick," rather than pull.

Hall tried the simulator again. "There's the rudder in full hard," Hewett said. "Right wheel! Right wheel!"

But Hall turned left. The plane crashed. "I almost recovered," Hall said.

After the session, Hall said Hewett was too heavy-handed. The Boeing engineers had nearly 18 months to figure out how to save the plane. The pilots had only seconds.

* * *

June 9, 1996. As Eastwind Airlines Flight 517 neared the airport in Richmond, Va., a bump came from the back of the plane.

The nose swung right and the right wing dipped toward the ground. Back in the passenger cabin, a flight attendant was thrown into some seats.

Capt. Brian Bishop stomped on the left rudder pedal, but it felt stiff. He turned the wheel to the left and added power to the right engine. That stopped the plane from rolling, but he could not get the wings level.

Leaning awkwardly to the right, the plane was heading straight for the lights of downtown Richmond. Bishop looked for an area with no lights. If he had to put the 737 down, he wanted to do it away from homes and buildings.

Suddenly the rudder seemed to return to normal. The wings rolled back to the left. But then came another thump and the plane rolled right again.

"Declare an emergency," Bishop told the first officer. "Tell them we've got a flight control problem."

Again, the rudder seemed to release. Bishop leveled the plane and turned toward the airport. Fire trucks were waiting beside the runway with red lights flashing as he touched down. Bishop was so scared his knees were shaking.

When NTSB engineers analyzed the Eastwind flight data recorder, they discovered the rudder had gone much farther than it should have – to at least 7 degrees.

A scary brush with disaster, but for Haueter, it might be a breakthrough for his 2-year-old investigation. He would get to talk to a pilot who survived a rudder malfunction. They would do a flight test to look for problems in the Eastwind plane and see how a pilot would react to a sudden rudder movement. Brian Bishop would be the guinea pig.

A week later, Hewett, the Boeing test pilot, and several NTSB investigators told Bishop how the test would go. Hewett, as usual, was coming on strong. Haueter felt he was trying to bully Bishop by questioning his memory of that night and suggesting he might have done something wrong.

"Stop it!" Haueter said. "You're trying to intimidate this guy."

Hewett said he was just trying to get Bishop to understand what happened that night. "I want these airline pilots to be as a good a pilot as I am," he said.

Haueter was furious. He felt Boeing was trying to influence the test.

Hewett was equally angry. He felt the NTSB was acting like the Gestapo, limiting what questions he could ask. He wasn't trying to influence Bishop, all he wanted was an accurate story from him.

When Bishop arrived for the flight test, Haueter warned him about Hewett, who would fly with him in the cockpit. "Look, the purpose of this is that I want to know your perceptions. Don't let anybody talk you out of anything."

They flew to restricted military airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, away from a populated area. If the rudder went hard to one side, they wouldn't wipe out a whole neighborhood.

Bishop flew the same speed as on June 9th. Without warning, an FAA pilot pushed a button that swung the rudder. Bishop stomped on the opposite rudder pedal and eased the plane back to wings level.

"This isn't even a tenth of what we felt that night," Bishop told Hewett.

"Well, it was dark out, you weren't expecting it," Hewett said. He seemed to be offering more excuses to show Bishop exaggerated.

"This wasn't even close," Bishop said.

To Haueter, Eastwind Flight 517 had become as suspicious as USAir 427. The rudder had not behaved the way it was supposed to.

* * *

McGrew knew Boeing was in trouble: Haueter wasn't buying the company's theory that the pilots overreacted. It seemed the people at the safety board had made up their minds to blame the airplane, even though there was no proof the rudder had malfunctioned.

McGrew and others at Boeing decided it was time to throw the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

They would go over Haueter's head directly to the NTSB board members, the five political appointees who would vote on the cause of the crash.

It was an extraordinary step sure to upset people at the NTSB, but it might be Boeing's only hope.

The result was a spiral-bound booklet called "Boeing Contribution to the USAir Flight 427 Accident Investigation Board." It did not mince words. It said the pilots caused the crash.

Sure enough, the blunt message annoyed Haueter. He saw the booklet as Boeing's effort to do an end-run around the NTSB staff to stop the safety recommendations for the 737.

After being stalled for 15 months, the recommendations had come back to life. Bud Laynor, the NTSB engineer who had blocked them, had retired. Haueter and Phillips found a more receptive audience in Bernard Loeb, the new head of aviation safety, who helped to get support from the five NTSB board members.

The board unanimously approved the recommendations. The Boeing "Contribution" had fizzled.

While Boeing was fighting, USAir was lying low.

The airline had taken a financial beating after the crash, losing $150-million in bookings because passengers were afraid that it was unsafe. It had been bruised by news stories and nasty jokes. One Internet Web site suggested new slogans for the airline, including: "Complimentary champagne during free-fall."

USAir wanted to disassociate itself from the crash and had avoided taking sides. The company was in a Catch-22. If the crash were blamed on the pilots, that was a black eye for the airline. But if it were blamed on the plane, USAir would have to reassure travelers that its 220 other 737s were safe.

* * *

As Brett walked into the 13th floor conference room that overlooked the Chicago River, he thought about snubbing USAir lawyer Ann Goodman by refusing to shake her hand. After all, she represented the airline that killed Joan. It seemed reasonable that he didn't have to be nice.

Brett had come to Goodman's law office to give a deposition to help the lawyers determine how much Joan's life was worth.

To people unfamiliar with civil cases, that process seemed cold and heartless. But there was a logic to it. The amount Brett received from USAir and Boeing would be based on pure economics – how much Joan could be expected to earn in her lifetime, minus how much she would spend. The companies were entitled to ask about anything that might predict how much she would earn, how long she and Brett would be married and how long she would live.

It had been nearly two years since the crash and Brett had started a new life. He had sold the house he and Joan shared in Lisle and immersed himself in a new venture to open a restaurant. It would be like Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe, but with a dinosaur theme. T. Rex's Dino World Cafe, he called it, "the only restaurant where you're not at the top of the food chain."

When he saw Goodman in the conference room, Brett decided to be respectful. He shook her hand and took a seat. His lawyer, Mike Demetrio, appeared to immerse himself in a magazine but was listening carefully, ready to object at any moment.

"Mr. Van Bortel, my name is Ann Goodman, I'm one of the attorneys representing USAir in this matter."

Reading from a lengthy script of questions, Goodman robotically moved from topic to topic, asking Brett about his homes, mortgages, educational background, even what medicine he was taking.

"Did you marry a woman by the name of Joan Lahart, correct?"

"Joan Elizabeth Lahart," Brett said.

"What was it that attracted you to Joan?"

"I don't know that I could put that in a nutshell," Brett said. "It would be a combination of many things, but I thought she was a very beautiful woman and a very strong-willed and motivated woman."

Goodman asked about Joan's hobbies, whether they went to football games, how much they paid for the house on Riedy Road. She asked Brett to describe the last time he had seen Joan and how he found out about the crash.

"It was our ritual for me to drop her off at the train station in Lisle for her 6:20 train, which I did that morning."

"What did you say to her, and she say to you?"

"I think I just said 'Love you and goodbye.' " Brett started to cry.

"Did you talk to her during the course of the day?"

He nodded.

Goodman asked about every painful detail, what they said when they spoke that afternoon, how he heard about the crash, when he called USAir, when he got confirmation she had been on the plane and when he received Joan's remains. Then she asked about Brett's visits to a psychologist.

"Did Dr. Pimental help you?"

"In some ways, but ultimately, no."

"How was she able to help you?"

"I would say helping me understand myself better and my reaction to it, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that no one but God was ever going to change what happened, and talking about it would not help me."

Goodman shifted gears again.

"How would you describe your marriage to her?"

"Excellent. We got along like best friends. I was very fortunate. I don't know why or how it happened, but I was one of the people that had one of the very good ones. I was very lucky."

"Did you plan to have any children?"

"Yes."

"Had you made any attempts to start a family?"

"No."

"Were you waiting for a certain period of time?"

"Yes."

"How long had you planned on waiting?"

"About another year."

"How would you describe your physical relationship with Joan?"

"Very good. I don't know, kind of guess I'm uncomfortable describing it. It was very good."

"You had normal sexual relations with her?"

"Yes."

"On a regular basis?"

"Yes."

"What was the frequency?"

Brett looked at his lawyer to see if he would object. When he did not, Brett looked back at Goodman, pitying her for having to ask such a question. She probably goes home and hates herself, Brett thought.

Realizing that he had no choice, he gave her the answer.

Goodman asked who did the cleaning at their house, who took out the garbage, who did the laundry, who shoveled snow off the driveway, who did the grocery shopping, who did the cooking, who did the dishes. Who paid the bills? Did he have his bank statements from 1994? How much was the electric bill? The gas bill? How was Joan's health? Did she smoke? How much did she drink? How much did she weigh? Was she ever convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor?

Brett answered them all.

"Do you have any plans to remarry?"

"No."

Part Four: Rules of engagement
Sunday, April 11


Additional Information

National Transportation Safety Board USAir Flight 427 Accident Investigation Docket Web site

The following documents are in the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) and require the free Acrobat Reader 3.0 or later from Adobe for viewing.


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