Air controllers allege reckless endangerment
(New York - WABC, May 8, 2007) (WABC) -- Prosecutors in Nassau County are on a fact finding mission -- this after several air traffic controllers from TRACON say they were forced to work despite being overcome by dangerous carbon monoxide fumes.
They claim the fumes not only put their lives at risk, but also the lives of thousands of airline passengers.
It's a story first uncovered by Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett. He has more on this latest development.
The controllers say it's a case of reckless endangerment, that the FAA took enormous risks knowingly and deliberately. On Tuesday, prosecutors took the first step in what could become a criminal investigation.
Air traffic controllers met with prosecutors face-to-face today -- nearly two weeks after several were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes at the FAA's air traffic control facility, TRACON.
"I think they were interested in every aspect of what took place that night," said air traffic controller Ray Maldonado
Ray Maldonado was one of half-a-dozen controllers who became physically ill after a test of the facility's backup generator sent exhaust fumes into the ventilation system.
"I remember being just extremely fatigues ... very tired ... very sleepy and it took a lot to stay awake," Maldonado said.
Yet as Eyewitness News first reported last week, they were forced to continue directing planes for up to four hours after TRACON managers refused to call 911 and threatened to bar fire responders from entering the facility if anyone else called.
"I think that there was malicious intent in that. They want to make you sit there and suffer," said air traffic controller Joe O'Brien.
Joe O'Brien is a union official who was working that night.
"They made them sit there and work the traffic, and it's only to the dedication and professionalism of the people I work with that calamity was avoided," O'Brien said.
"The person responsible needs to be held accountable. We believe these actions do rise to the level of reckless endangerment for the employees and the public," said Dean Iacopelli, president of the TRACON controllers union.
"They knew that something was causing the air traffic controllers to become sick on the job at the risk of their own health, at the risk of the citizens of Nassau County and at the risk of those people on the airplanes," said Former Brooklyn Prosecutor David Schwartz.
Schwartz says possible charges could include reckless endangerment and even assault.
There is no word tonight on whether District Attorney Kathleen Rice will open a formal investigation.
The FAA tells Eyewitness News that their own internal investigation is moving toward completion.
In a short statement released to Eyewitness News Tuesday evening, an agency spokesman seemed to suggest that the only likely changes would involve maintenance procedures on TRACON's backup diesel generator.
"FAA continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident that occurred at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Westbury on April 25. A preliminary examination of the equipment and procedures has been completed. At the end of the investigation, if it is warranted, recommendations will be made on how maintenance checks on facility diesel engine generators can be improved," said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.
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