Mom of three Courtney Edwards, 34, has been identified as the ramp agent of American Airlines/Piedmont Airlines that was tragically killed on New Year’s Eve after being ingested into the engine of an Envoy (American Eagle) Embraer ERJ-175 at Montgomery Regional Airport in Montgomery, Alabama.
The accident occurred on Saturday, December 31st, around 3:00 PM, and forced the airport’s closure during a busy holiday weekend.
According to the Aviation Investigation Preliminary Report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board, Edwards was warned several times to avoid approaching the arriving aircraft operating American Eagle flight ENY3408 from Dallas as the engines would remain on for two minutes to allow ground power to be hooked up as the plane was suffering from an auxiliary power unit failure. A warning she ignored at the expense of her life.
The report states the ground team conducted a safety briefing 10 minutes before the airplane arrived at the gate. In addition, a second safety “huddle” was held shortly before the flight arrived to reiterate that the engines would remain running until ground power was connected. Instructions were given for no one to approach the aircraft or set out safety equipment until the engines were off, spooled down, and the plane’s rotating beacon light had been turned off by the flight crew.
According to Christian Wall, a pilot expert on Airsidechat.com, the majority of aviation incidents happen when a flight experiences something outside of its standard operating routine, which is the reason Edwards and her colleagues were briefed about the irregular operations of this particular flight. “This event appears to have been caused by a scenario that was out of the ordinary,” Wall said. “We are trained to become hyper-vigilant whenever something is different. The modern method for briefing is now all about highlighting what is different because history shows us that this is when the incidents are most likely to occur. It’s sometimes called Threat Error Management (TEM) and for it to work well, everybody in the Safety Chain, including groundcrew, needs to be able to identify the additional threats that come from unusual situations.”
Apart from the two safety briefings, the airline’s ground operations manual clearly states: “To Keep Employees Alive and Aircraft Intact, You Will: NEVER approach an aircraft to position ground equipment next to an aircraft or open cargo bin doors until the engines are shut down, and the rotating beacon(s) turned off.
The report also states witnesses working alongside Edwards tried to warn her to stay back after witnessing her ignore the instructions, and she was nearly blown over by the force of the engine’s exhaust as she attempted to set out safety cones with the engines still on. Nevertheless, moments later, they heard a loud bang, followed by the aircraft shaking violently. Edwards was sucked off her feet and ingested into the running engine.
The union, which represents Piedmont Airline’s Ground Handling employees, set up a fundraiser in memory of Edwards to help raise money to help care for her three children and cover to help cover funeral costs.