New Report on Norfolk, Va. Airport Fatality

Three years after an airline worker died in an in cident at Norfolk International Airport, federal investigators released some conclusions but said a full report will take another year or more.

Denise Bogucki, a 13-year veteran of Northwest Airlines, was crushed against the nose of an airplane in September 2003 . Bogucki, 43 , was driving a small tractor preparing the DC-9 for push-back when she struck the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board posted findings on its Web site Thursday that blame Bogucki for failing to operate the equipment properly. The post also says the design of the airline's equipment was a contributing factor .

The findings also speak to the staffing issue raised by employees before and after the incident.

Bogucki was doing the push-back job alone. The airline now requires two people for push-backs.

For months before the incident, Northwest employees complained to company officials that staffing in Norfolk was dangerously low.

The safety board, however, said staffing levels "had no direct bearing" on the incident. It also said that although there were fewer workers than usual that night, staffing was consistent with the company's model.

In its first report, more than a year and a half ago, the safety board blamed only Bogucki for the incident. Officials reopened the case when it became clear that inaccurate information was used to reach that finding.

Bogucki's mother, Jeanne Earley , who has been waiting for closure in her daughter's death, was disappointed with the latest findings.

"This didn't need to take three years," she said. "They haven't changed much. I don't know what to do or say now because it's clear nothing's going to change."

The NTSB's original report said Bogucki chose the wrong equipment to push back the plane.

After union officials complained, saying she was using the only equipment the airline provided, the board reopened the case.

Union officials said it is typical in accident investigations for the worker to shoulder some of the blame.

"An accident happens, you're there, you have some blame," said Bob Bennek , who was until this week the safety director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Air Transport District 143 , which includes Norfolk.

"How much of the blame you put on her is what the debate is," he said. "The only blame I put on her was that she was an extremely conscientious employee because she was out there alone. I wish she would have said, 'No, I'm mad as hell and I'm waiting for help.'\"

The most recent report said the probable cause was Bogucki's failure to properly control the push-back tug or maintain adequate clearance from the airplane. A contributing factor, it says, was the lack of a protective enclosure over the tug's cab.

After Bogucki's death, Northwest replaced the open-cab tug in Norfolk with a closed-cab one and installed protective roll bars on its tugs nationwide.

The report also said Bogucki did not have updated paperwork in her file that indicated she was qualified or authorized to do push-backs.

Earley, who recently retired from a job at the airport, said Bogucki was well-qualified and should not be faulted because her file was not kept up to date.

Northwest officials declined to comment.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the findings are preliminary and subject to change. He said a final report will be issued in 12 to 18 months.



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