28 Seconds: The Mystery of USAir Flight 427
Part Two: The soda can

Why would a jet suddenly roll out of the blue sky and dive into a hill? It was up to Tom Haueter and the NTSB to find the answer. But for Brett Van Bortel and relatives of other victims, there was only heartache.

STORY BY BILL ADAIR OF THE TIMES STAFF

March 3, 1991

Before United Airlines Flight 585 took off from Denver, Capt. Harold Green noted that the winds were deceptively strong. "Nice lookin' day," he said. "Hard to believe the skies are unfriendly."

The Boeing 737 had an uneventful flight, but a minute before landing in Colorado Springs, it rolled to the right.

"Oh my God! Oh my God!" shouted First Officer Trish Eidson.

As the 737 dived toward a park, witnesses saw the passengers' frightened faces pressed against the windows. All 25 people aboard were killed.

Did strong crosswinds off the mountains bring down the plane? Or did the 737, the most widely used jetliner in the world, have a hidden mechanical flaw?

The National Transportation Safety Board had a spectacular success rate solving plane crashes, but this time the board decided it was stumped. On the cover of the final report, in big blue letters, were words embarrassing to the NTSB and unsettling for air travelers. The plane crashed "FOR UNDETERMINED REASONS."

Three years later, another 737 went down: USAir Flight 427, on approach to Pittsburgh on a clear and calm summer evening, spun out of the sky, killing all 132 people on board.

* * *

Sept. 10, 1994

As Brett Van Bortel drove into Hopewell Township on Route 60, the hill where his wife died was glowing a brilliant white. Lights ringed the hill like a crown.

He had been overwhelmed by friends who stopped by to give their condolences. They had good intentions, but Brett needed to escape. He hoped to visit the crash site and say goodbye to Joan. USAir had said he probably could visit the hill and that he might be needed to identify her body.

So two days after the crash, Brett, his mother, his friend Craig and Joan's brother Dan piled into his mom's Jeep Cherokee and drove nine hours straight through from Chicago to Pittsburgh.

They pulled off the highway so Brett could get his first look at the place where his wife died. The lights made the scene surreal, almost beautiful. Brett said a long prayer.

That night at his hotel, Brett met the USAir employee who had volunteered to help him during his visit. She seemed befuddled.

She rode around in a white limo but couldn't remember her hotel. She had a cellular phone so Brett could get in touch with her any time, but the battery was dead and she didn't know how to charge it. She kept flipping through legal pads, reciting messages from her bosses, but she couldn't answer basic questions. The only time she seemed animated was when Brett mentioned talking to the media.

"You can talk to the media," she said, "but we'd advise against it because you're going through a period of grieving."

The USAir woman gave a spirited explanation of how they were going to identify the 132 victims using a grid and flags to locate the body parts.

"Great," Brett said, "I'm glad you're getting a little science lesson out of it while there are pieces of my wife laying up on that hillside."

A day or two later, USAir reversed itself and said the families would not be able to visit the crash site. Brett attended two memorial services, then went home to Chicago.

The airline asked him to send books and perfume bottles that might have Joan's fingerprints. Identifying the passengers had turned out to be much harder than anyone expected.

* * *

As investigators prepared to get started on the hill in Hopewell Township, Tom Haueter, the NTSB's chief investigator, gave them advice about dealing with the grisly scene.

"Concentrate on metal, not on people."

The normally tranquil forest looked like the site of a military invasion. Helicopters pounded overhead as trucks from the National Guard, the Salvation Army, USAir and Allegheny County roared up the gravel road. Haueter's 100 investigators wore rubber suits and surgical masks to protect themselves from the blood that splattered the site.

Picking through the wreckage, they got the first clues.

The engine fan blades were bent backward from the way they rotated, which meant the engines were running when the plane struck the hill. That ruled out engine problems.

In the mangled cockpit, the airspeed indicator was at 264 knots – about 300 mph – the plane's speed at impact.

Passenger belongings littered the woods: boxer shorts with red diamonds, a flight attendant's apron, a Hooters T-shirt, a Purdue University sweat shirt.

There were lots of books: Forrest Gump, the Pocket Prayer Book, Rush Limbaugh's The Way Things Ought to Be, a John Grisham novel, a management training manual called Firing Up Commitments During Organizational Change and the Bible.

And everyday stuff: a garage door opener, family snapshots, a teddy bear, a Swiss Army knife, pocket calculators, a rosary.

Full-size body bags arrived for the victims, but the bodies were in so many pieces that most were taken from the hill in 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bags.

The site was considered a biohazard. Investigators and wreckage were sprayed with a Clorox solution when they left the hill. Summer downpours and the hot rubber suits made for wretched working conditions. The smell of bleach and the unforgettable odor of death made a suffocating stench. Investigators dabbed cologne, orange juice or Vicks VapoRub on their surgical masks to hide the odor. Haueter smeared his mustache with Tiger Balm, a sweet-smelling ointment.

Wayne Tatalovich, the Beaver County coroner, converted an Air Force Reserve hangar into a giant morgue. Identifying the victims went slowly. There were 132 people on the plane, but 2,000 Ziploc bags.

The tiny coroner's office was overwhelmed by the job, despite help from dozens of volunteer doctors and dentists. Tatalovich worked to keep the process as dignified as possible. Someone said prayers over the hangar's PA system. Before wallets were returned to family members, Tatalovich replaced the passengers' bloodstained money with new bills.

For the next three weeks, a committee of pathologists met every day to decide if they had enough to identify a body. The doctors usually relied on dental records and fingerprints. When those weren't available, the pathologists got creative, using the serial number on an artificial hip or wires in chest bones from open-heart surgery.

A USAir pilot volunteering in the morgue sent Brett photographs of engagement rings from several victims, but Joan's ring was not among them.

Brett was in Melrose, Iowa, for another memorial service in Joan's honor, when the pilot called again. It had been nearly three weeks since the crash; Brett was losing patience.

"Look," he told the pilot, "it's got two triangular-shaped diamonds, two oval-shaped ones and a marquise in the center. It's very unique." The pilot promised to call back.

The phone rang a few minutes later.

"Did she have a very thin, simple gold band for a wedding ring?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Van Bortel. We've identified your wife."

* * *

Tips poured in to the NTSB command center at the Holiday Inn. Someone blamed Russian death rays. Another thought it had to be the work of the devil. Someone else had a dream and saw "HYDRAULIC" written in the clouds.

Dozens of people had seen the 737 twist toward the ground, and most agreed it had rolled left and then plunged nose-down. They agreed on little else. Some heard a growling sound, others heard nothing.

A USAir utility worker saw smoke coming from the front of a wing and somebody else said one of the engines looked like it was cocked to the side. But most people didn't see smoke and said the engine looked normal.

Rumors spread about a passenger named Paul Olson, a cocaine dealer who had just met with prosecutors in Chicago about testifying against a drug ring.

"WITNESS ON DOOMED PLANE TIED TO COLOMBIAN DRUG TRADE" said the Gannett News Service. Gannett quoted lawyer F. Lee Bailey: "I believe a bomb caused it, particularly after I found out what went on in the cockpit. In my view, in the totality of what we know so far, the scenario is consistent with a bomb. I think two bombs might have gone off in sequence."

But the FBI told Haueter that Olson was a bit player who would not be the target of a hit. "He's a nobody," an FBI agent said.

The wreckage told the same story: no bomb.

The only pieces of the plane found away from the hill were light objects, such as insulation, that were carried away in the hot plume of smoke. The wreckage, including the 4,000 copies of BusinessWeek, was concentrated in a tight area on the hill. If a bomb had gone off, BusinessWeeks would have rained from the sky. They'd still be finding them in Cleveland.

To be absolutely sure, Haueter consulted Edward Kittel, an FAA specialist in airplane explosions. Kittel said hot gas from a bomb would leave unmistakable marks. The wreckage would be pitted with tiny craters and black streaks that would not wipe away with a finger. But a fire after a plane hit the ground would burn cooler and slower.

Kittel inspected thousands of pieces that came off the hill, searching for the telltale pockmarks. He found none.

With the bomb scenario put to rest, Haueter could focus on his best theory -- that something went wrong with the rudder of USAir 427.

A rudder problem would explain why the plane suddenly rolled left. In fact, it sounded suspiciously like what happened to the United 737 that crashed in Colorado Springs.

Everyone at the NTSB knew about Colorado Springs, one of only four unsolved crashes in the safety board's 27-year history. Haueter vowed that the big words "FOR UNDETERMINED REASONS" would never appear on his report. He pictured himself not only solving USAir 427, but also untangling United 585 in one fell swoop. He wanted to be the guy who solved the riddle of the 737.

* * *

Much of the detective work in the Colorado Springs crash had centered on the rudder, the big vertical panel on the tail that points the plane's nose right or left. But there wasn't enough evidence to prove it was at fault.

For the USAir crash there was stronger evidence from the flight recorder pointing to the rudder, so Haueter's investigators had quickly focused on a device the size of a soda can that moved the big panel.

The soda can gadget was an ingenious device that had simplified the 737's rudder system, trimming at least 50 pounds off the plane's weight. That saved the airlines thousands of dollars in fuel.

Its real name was impossibly dull – the dual concentric servo valve – but engineers used an amusing hand gesture to show how it worked. They curled fingers on one hand to create a hole, then stuck their index finger in and out, like they were demonstrating sex.

The valve was housed inside a heavy steel contraption about 3 feet long and 2 feet wide called a power control unit, or PCU. When a pilot stepped on a rudder pedal, the PCU moved a tube in and out of the soda can-sized valve. That allowed hydraulic fluid under pressure to pass through the holes in the valve. Depending on which holes the fluid passed through, the rudder would turn right or left.

In the arcane world of hydraulics, the valve was revolutionary because it had two tubes, one inside the other. The valve-within-a-valve design provided an important safety feature: If one tube jammed, fluid could move through the other and neutralize the rudder.

Haueter assigned his colleague and close friend Greg Phillips to lead the investigation of the plane's mechanical systems, including the rudder. A frizzy-haired NTSB engineer who had worked on the Colorado Springs crash, Phillips knew 737 rudders better than just about anyone. Ever since Colorado Springs, he kept a running list of suspicious 737 incidents, like a detective tracking a killer.

Two weeks after the Hopewell crash, Phillips and his team of investigators flew to Seattle to test the key pieces at a Boeing lab.

The wreckage arrived in crates that reeked of Clorox. They were stored in a locked room at Boeing to guarantee that nobody could tamper with the evidence. The NTSB's "party system" made Boeing, USAir and the pilots union equal partners in the investigation – but trust had its limits.

Phillips believed in the NTSB culture of caution. They had to consider every possible theory. "We can't just stay focused on the rudder," he told his colleagues.

Dozens of tests on cockpit gauges, switches and other items turned up nothing out of the ordinary. This was the drudgery of the NTSB's methodical approach. A hundred tests might produce nothing, but crossing each one off the list brought them closer to solving the mystery.

They saved the rudder tests for last, flying to Irvine, Calif., home of Parker Hannifin, the company that made the PCUs and the soda can valves.

There was tension in the air when Phillips' group arrived. To Parker employees, it was like a visit from the IRS. The NTSB team was there to see if Parker's product was responsible for the disaster.

Some investigators thought this test might solve everything. They suspected a jam in the soda can valve had made the rudder suddenly turn, flipping the plane out of the sky.

Technicians pulled the PCU from the crate and hooked it to a pump. A technician flipped a switch.

No one spoke. Everyone was listening for a hiss or gurgle or some other awful sound the valve might have made before it threw 132 people to their deaths. It seemed like everyone was holding their breath waiting for the big moment.

Nothing.

The valve didn't budge. They could just as well be staring at a rock garden.

A technician moved a lever to simulate a pilot stepping on a rudder pedal. The tubes inside the valve slid smoothly back and forth.

The technician pushed the lever harder. He tried to get it to reverse, slamming it as hard as possible.

"No piston reversal," a Parker employee wrote on the test records.

Test after test, the device worked perfectly.

No deficiencies.

Passed.

Passed.

No abnormalities.

No anomalies.

Hundreds of tests and they had found nothing wrong with the plane or the soda can valve. Haueter was back where he started.

* * *

With everything they had in common, you might think John Cox and Jean McGrew would be close friends: Both loved boating and sports cars, both were fascinated by gadgets and both loved Boeing airplanes.

But they came from different worlds, different cultures. McGrew built airplanes, Cox flew them.

They were on opposite sides in the high-stakes NTSB investigation, McGrew from Boeing, Cox from the pilots union.

Cox, a USAir pilot with 8,000 hours flying 737s, lived in a waterfront home in

St. Petersburg and played lots of Jimmy Buffett music. His bookshelves reflected his meticulous personality: Tom Clancy hardbacks on one shelf, aviation books on another. An errant copy of his wife's Martha Stewart Weddings once put in an appearance on the maritime shelf, but it didn't stay long. Even his doodling was intricate, complex geometric figures that looked like M.C. Escher drawings.

He was trim, with graying hair and a silver mustache. Cox did not serve in the military, but he had the swagger. His planes had electronic brains, but they would never have the essence of a pilot. Computers don't have guts.

McGrew came from a different world.

Boeing, the world's premier manufacturer of commercial jets, was run by engineers like him, who work in a black-and-white world of data. None of their equations mentioned guts.

McGrew's mind was like a mainframe. He studied a problem, processed data, reached a conclusion. That's how he decided to wear a pocket protector. Never mind that they looked nerdy. He wanted pens within reach and he didn't want stains on his dress shirts. Data in, data out. Pockets protected.

He started his career with the Douglas Aircraft Co. as an expert on flutter, a condition that makes an aircraft shake so violently it breaks apart. Most engineers preferred a more simple discipline, but McGrew liked flutter precisely because it was complicated.

He retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1989 and was hired by Boeing. As the 737's chief engineer, he was the plane's godfather, approving design changes and making sure it met federal safety standards. Chief engineers usually don't get deeply involved in crash investigations. But with Colorado Springs, this marked the second mysterious 737 accident in three years, so Boeing's top management gave McGrew a lead role.

He became obsessed with the USAir crash. He would wake at 3 a.m., crawl out of bed and go downstairs to his home computer. He would pull up a spreadsheet of 427's flight data and then adjust ratios and parameters to see what effect the changes would have.

Boeing engineers had always been confounded by the macho pilots who flew their creations. In 1955, test pilot Tex Johnston angered Boeing's top brass by making a heart-stopping barrel-roll in the prototype of the 707 during a demonstration in front of thousands of people. A decade later, the two cultures clashed again. When 737s began flying, the pilots union forced some airlines to put a third pilot in the cockpit for safety even though Boeing had the government's blessing for a two-person crew. Boeing saw it as greed, pure and simple, a way to get more pilots on the payroll.

In crash investigations, Boeing and the pilots union – the Air Line Pilots Association – often butted heads. Boeing defended its plane. The union defended its pilots.

When Cox and McGrew separately listened to Flight 427's cockpit tape, they reached conclusions that were worlds apart.

The more Cox listened, the more he became convinced that pilots Peter Germano and Charles Emmett III had no idea what hit them. There had to be something wrong with the 737. Cox told a colleague: "There is a gremlin in that plane."

To McGrew, it sounded like the pilots were startled by something and then overreacted. He heard it in the tone of their voices when they said "Sheez!" and "Zuh!"

McGrew heard nothing to suggest the pilots believed the plane was malfunctioning. They didn't mention the rudder pedals or anything else.

"Pull! Pull!"

When he heard Germano say that, McGrew knew it was the wrong thing to do. They should have pushed the control wheel forward to gain speed. The tape made it all clear to him: The pilots were startled, mistakenly stomped on the rudder pedal and then pulled back on the wheel, stalling the airplane. To McGrew, they had done everything wrong.

The pilots were to blame.

* * *

"Hey mister!" the boy called to Brett Van Bortel. "Wanna piece of the plane?"

Brett had returned to the hill in Hopewell on the one-month anniversary of the crash to bury a gold brooch for Joan, a symbol that he would love her forever. He was walking toward the place he called "ground zero" – where the nose of the plane met the road – when the boy offered him green slivers of aluminum from the plane.

"Goddamn NTSB," Brett said under his breath. Didn't they collect everything? How could they leave evidence behind?

The wreckage was supposed to be long gone from the hill; the safety board had finished its work there a week earlier.

Joan's belongings had been sent to Brett with her casket, in a zippered white pouch that said "Joan Van Bortel, aka Lahart, Gilbert Funeral Home." Inside was her checkbook, a phone bill and a few shattered credit cards. Her wedding and engagement rings also arrived, minus one of the diamonds that was lost on the hill.

Brett had grown even more annoyed with USAir. The airline was backing away from its promises to pay some expenses and had refused to tell him who was sitting beside Joan. Brett knew she was in 14E, but it was important to him to find out who was with her when she died.

The boy with the wreckage caught him by surprise. Brett finally said sure, he'd take a piece. He walked down the road to ground zero and knelt in the dirt. He was saying a prayer when a woman tapped him on the shoulder.

"Your wife was on the flight?" the woman asked.

"Her name was Joan," said Brett.

The woman started crying. "My husband was."

They hugged. The woman said her husband was Robert Connolly, a financial consultant who was returning from a business meeting in Chicago. Brett explained that he had been trying to find out who sat beside Joan. Tina Connolly said she had been trying to find out the same thing about her husband.

"Do you know where Joan sat?" she asked.

"Sure. 14E."

Her eyes widened. She shouted over to her brother-in-law, "Do you remember where Bob sat?"

He shouted back, "14F."

They stood there, crying. Brett handed her a card about the scholarship fund he had set up in Joan's honor. The card had Joan's photograph on it. "Do you have a photo of your husband?" he asked.

"No," she said. She pointed to her brother-in-law. "But this is his identical twin."

They plotted how they could compile a seating chart by sharing seat numbers. Tina said goodbye and Brett returned to ground zero, to bury the brooch.

He knelt in the dirt and used the piece of wreckage the kid had given him to dig a hole. He set the gold brooch inside and covered it up. He said a prayer as his tears fell to the dirt.

As Brett prayed, Maj. Robert Pfeiffer, a Salvation Army official who had come with him, climbed up an embankment to a wreath of 132 silk roses, each tagged with a victim's name.

As Pfeiffer got to the wreath, one of the roses fell to the ground. He looked at the name: Joan Van Bortel.

He came down to the road and handed the rose to Brett. He said, "Brett, it's a sign from God."

* * *

For a trial lawyer, a plane crash lawsuit is a slam dunk. It's not a question of whether the plaintiff will win, but how much.

Within days of the crash, families of the victims of Flight 427 were inundated with mailings from lawyers looking for business.

"It is most difficult to intrude into your life at this time, but you do need help, not only spiritual, but legal as well," wrote the Cleveland firm of Miller, Stillman & Bartel.

It promised the firm will "only accept five families from any one disaster, as each family is entitled to our utmost time and individual attention."

Included was an ad that listed the death and injury cases the firm had handled – planes, trains, automobiles, even "slips and falls."

Houston lawyer John O'Quinn took a more glitzy approach in trolling for clients. He sent each family a videotape.

"First, I want to offer my sincere condolences," he said on the tape. "I realize that sudden losses such as this are very difficult to deal with, and unfortunately at this time your mind is probably not prepared to make certain important decisions which unfortunately must be made."

He warned the families that "USAir already has its attorneys working on the case . . . in the best interests of USAir, and not necessarily in your best interests."

Brett found some mailings tacky – especially the one with a refrigerator magnet – but some of the letters helped him understand the process of a wrongful death case. Ultimately, Brett ignored the big stack of solicitations and chose Corboy & Demetrio, a law firm so famous in Chicago that it didn't need to solicit clients. The senior partner, a white-haired Kirk Douglas look-alike named Philip Corboy, was known as "the Hoover vacuum of the personal injury business."

The lawyers didn't waste a minute: Hours after Brett signed the contract to hire them on Oct. 12, his lawsuit was hand-carried across Dearborn Street to the clerk's office in Cook County Circuit Court.

Personal injury lawyers loved to file in Cook County because its juries were renowned for big awards. A jury in Chicago would be more generous than one in Pittsburgh, where USAir was a hometown favorite.

Brett would get plenty of money from Joan's life insurance and worker's compensation. What he wanted from his lawsuit against USAir and Boeing went beyond dollars and cents. He wanted revenge against the companies that killed his wife.

The suit said Brett "has sustained pecuniary loss and damage, including loss of society and companionship, love and affection, as a result of her death."

He wore Joan's engagement ring on a chain around his neck. When he'd roll over in bed, the little prongs that had held the diamond would dig into his chest. But he didn't want to repair it. He wanted the ring exactly as it had been found at the crash site.

He had taken leave from his job writing advertising copy for the company that published the Official Airline Guide. He spent hours in the tiny public library in Lisle, reading articles about the FAA, 737s and the Colorado Springs crash. The more he learned, the madder he got. He read how cockpits had become computerized and how three-person crews had been trimmed to two. He became convinced that the FAA, which was supposed to regulate airlines, had become too close to the industry. He read that the FAA had a "tombstone mentality" because it didn't take action until people died.

Even worse was USAir. Brett felt the airline had been unresponsive. The company had rebuffed his requests for a Flight 427 seating chart. His family representative in Pittsburgh – the woman who could not find her hotel – was no help. And the airline had reneged on its offers to pay for a church contribution in Joan's honor and to fly friends and relatives to Joan's memorial service.

His anger was building against Boeing. The more he read about 737 rudder problems, the more he was convinced that the plane had been unsafe for years.

It also bothered him that the companies he blamed for Joan's death were working side by side with the NTSB as it tried to solve the mystery.

* * *

In a darkened room in Seattle, Haueter prepared to take a ghost ride.

They called it a backdrive, a re-creation of the crash in a Boeing simulator. By programing the simulator using the USAir plane's black box, anyone could fly with the ghosts of Emmett and Germano and see how 132 people had died.

It had been two months since the crash and the investigation had boiled down to a seemingly simple question: man or machine?

There was growing consensus that a sudden rudder twist had caused the crash. Either the pilots stomped on the rudder pedal or there was a bizarre malfunction in the soda can valve that caused the rudder to move on its own.

Haueter buckled himself into the co-pilot's seat and the cab filled with the fake noise of the engines. Boeing didn't have the cockpit recording in the simulator, but Haueter had heard it so many times that he knew the words.

Oh yeah, I see zuh Jetstream.

Thump.

The cab rolled to the left. It was milder than Haueter expected. Another jerk to the left.

Gee, that wasn't very bumpy either, he thought. The cab kept rolling left and began to dive.

What the hell is this?

Haueter's view out the simulator's window had been a computerized sky, but as the cab pitched down, all he could see were the green and blue squares that were supposed to represent the neighborhoods of Hopewell.

He felt the control wheel come toward his chest as the phantom pilots tried desperately to pull the plane's nose up. The simulator twisted back and forth as Hopewell spun closer.

Pulllllllll!

At impact, the simulator jerked to a stop, then slowly returned to level, like a Disney World ride getting ready to thrill someone else.

Haueter knew 737 pilots rarely needed the rudder. They steer by moving panels on the wings called ailerons. They use the rudder only when landing in a strong crosswind or if an engine loses power.

Why would Emmett or Germano use the rudder in calm weather at 6,000 feet?

Haueter flew the simulator 10 times, trying to imagine what the pilots were thinking. They had made a crucial mistake by pulling back on the control wheel, which stalled the plane. Boeing kept pointing out that mistake, but Haueter felt it was understandable – they were zooming toward the ground and desperately wanted to pull up.

As Haueter rode, he searched for a bump, a sound, anything that might prompt them to stomp on the rudder pedal. There were a few bumps, but nothing major. It was all smooth and quick.

Nothing had happened that would make seasoned pilots slam on the pedals. As Haueter climbed out of the simulator, he was convinced: If it wasn't the pilots, it had to be the plane.

* * *

On a Saturday in January 1995, four months after the crash, Haueter caught up on some paperwork in the NTSB's darkened offices. As he headed out, posters in a conference room caught his eye.

The 32 posters each represented a second or half-second increment of Flight 427. They showed what Germano saw from the captain's seat, coupled with Boeing's estimates of how the wheel and rudder pedals moved.

Haueter slowly worked his way down the wall, studying the posters. The USAir 737 had been jostled by the wake of a Delta jet ahead of it, and then rolled to the left.

That made sense.

The pilots tried to stop the roll by turning the wheel to the right. That made sense.

The left rudder pedal went in briefly. That made sense. One of the pilots probably tried to slow the plane as it was rolling back to the right.

The left pedal went in again, almost all the way.

That made NO sense.

Why would a pilot turn the rudder left when the plane already was rolling left? That would be like a driver, realizing he was about to drive off a cliff, turning the steering wheel to go over the cliff sooner.

It all seemed out of synch.

Then it clicked: What if the rudder drawings were reversed? Instead of pushing on the left pedal, maybe the pilots were pushing on the RIGHT pedal. But a malfunction in the soda can valve somehow made the rudder go the wrong way.

It all fit.

Maybe the pilots had been stomping down on the right pedal, trying to stop the plane from rolling left, but the rudder wasn't responding. Worse, it went the opposite way, causing the plane to roll out of control.

Haueter left the office and stepped into the brisk winter weather. He jaywalked across Seventh Street and headed for the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

This was his secret retreat, where he'd sneak away to clear his head. He marveled at how far aviation had come in one lifetime, from the Wright brothers to the moon landing.

On the second floor, he stopped in front of the Lockheed Sirius, a red two-seater with big silver pontoons that Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh had flown. As he admired the plane, his thoughts circled back to the investigation.

Something must have made the rudder reverse. It made perfect sense.

What the hell is this?

When the pilots pushed on the rudder pedal, it didn't respond the way it should. Now Haueter had to figure out why.


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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