In my previous post, Did anybody see what happened? I mentioned the fact that the Rakowskys were sitting in first class. I also talked briefly about the controversy surrounding Gary Banks, the flight engineer, and whether or not he had left the cockpit. The reason why this was such an important subject to the investigators is because their theory of the incident involved Gary leaving the cockpit , returning, seeing circuit breakers pulled, and then pushing the circuit breakers back in, which then caused the slats to extend.
Passenger Holly Wicker provided a written statement to the investigators indicating that she had seen one of the pilots leave the cockpit to hand the meal trays to the flight attendant. Here is Holly’s statement:
Before the incident, a member of the crew came back toward the galley with three trays. He came from the cockpit and he had insignias on his shoulder, which indicated he was one of the flight crew. I had met the stewards and stewardesses when I got on because I was transporting three children back from India for adoption. I was watching the galley because one of the stewardesses was heating up a bottle for one of the children I was with. It was within a minute or two, or maybe less, later that the incident began. The bottle that I had given still did not have its cap on properly.
The investigators had another statement taken from Hoot the night of the accident that seemed to corroborate Holly’s timing of events. To the investigators, there was a clear connection to Gary’s movements and the timing of the upset. The flight engineer leaves the cockpit and has a long chat, the two pilots up front decide to do some unauthorized procedure, he returns and all hell breaks loose.
So what did the Rakowskys see? They were sitting in first class. I asked them that question. Back in 1981, shortly after the NTSB came out with their findings, Jeannine Rakowsky wrote a letter to a Minneapolis paper stating that she never saw anyone leave the cockpit at any time during the flight. Both she and her husband Bob maintain the same thing today.
But what does Gary have to say about it? What does flight attendant Mark Moscicki have to say about it? Well, after some prompting by one of the NTSB board members, the investigator in charge agreed to hold another set of depositions to answer this one and only question.
Gary testified that he didn’t believe that he had left the cockpit for any reason. But he also admitted that it wasn’t unusual for him to step out to hand the trays to the flight attendant.
So he might have or might not have, he couldn’t say for sure. Next we have flight attendant Mark Mosscicki. Here is what Mark had to say about this topic.
John Ferguson from the NTSB took over the questioning.
Q. Did all the crew members eat together?
A. I don’t recall
Q. Did you pick up the trays from the cockpit after the crew was finished?
A. No, at that moment I don’t know if I collected all three or not.
Q. Did you collect any?
A. I don’t recall.
Q. Do you know if any of the cabin attendants picked up the trays?
A. No, they didn’t. I know that some were brought back out by the flight engineer and delivered to me.
Q. And delivered to you, where? At the galley?
A. Not quite at the galley. He had started out, maybe was getting toward the rear of the first class cabin. I met him and took them away from him.
So there it was. All of the speculation related to whether or not the flight engineer left the cockpit or didn’t was answered. Gary Banks did leave the cockpit long enough to walk back to the end of first class and hand the meal trays to Mark.
Kampschror and Ferguson must have been feeling pretty confident at that point. Their confidence wouldn’t last long. Jim McIntyre indicated to Speiser that he had a few questions for the witness.
Q. Would you, if you could try, and I know it’s difficult, would he have given you the trays at least, pick a figure and we can work from there, 30 minutes prior to the incident or 20 minutes, or what?
A. I would say at least 30 because after that point there was time enough to finish cleaning up the entire aircraft, also time for me to sit down and feed my crew dinner, which I had finished a good five minutes before the incident happened.
Jim followed up with another important question related to the timing of events.
Q. When the flight engineer came back, approximately 30 minutes prior, did he spend any time with you or did he just hand you the trays and return immediately to the cockpit?
A. He spent no time with us whatsoever. He handed me the trays and went back to the cockpit immediately and never came out again.
Q. You saw him reenter?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. O.K., you never saw him come back out?
A. Absolutely not.
Q. Did you feel or sense any climb on the part of the aircraft from the point at which you served the meals or he brought the trays back, prior to the onset of the accident?
A. No, none whatsoever.
Jim McIntyre wasn’t a lawyer, but in a few short minutes he proved that he certainly could have been. Not only was he able to slip in a question beyond the scope of the depositions (his question related to whether or not Mark had sensed the aircraft climb), but he also completely destroyed the NTSB’s theory that the accident had been initiated when the flight engineer returned, saw the popped circuit breakers, and then pushed them back in.
For one, Gary was only out of the cockpit long enough to walk about thirty feet to the end of first class and then back to the cockpit. In that time, Hoot and Scott would have had to discuss the unauthorized procedure regarding the extension of the trailing edge flaps and then execute the procedure, all before Gary had made it back to the cockpit.
Jim also established that at least thirty minutes had transpired from the time Gary returned to the cockpit and the onset of the upset, which was counter to the NTSB’s theory that the onset occurred shortly after Gary had returned to the cockpit.
After this deposition the NTSB never again mentioned the flight engineer leaving the cockpit. The Rakowskys didn’t see Gary leave the cockpit. They came to the crew’s defense. But in truth in didn’t matter because the facts support Gary leaving and returning to the cockpit in the amount of time it takes to walk thirty feet and back. And he did it at least thirty minutes before the upset.