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Alaska Airlines escapes charges for maintenance irregularities The Associated Press WASHINGTON — Dizzy from morphine and weary from battle, American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh said in an interview soon after his capture that he had been a part o

The Associated Press
Friday December 21, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors have decided not to file charges against Alaska Airlines after a three-year grand jury probe into reported irregularities at a maintenance center. 

The investigation was expanded to include the crash of Flight 261 off the California coast on Jan. 31, 2000. All 88 people aboard were killed. 

“We have decided, based on the evidence we collected, that it would not be appropriate to prosecute Alaska Airlines criminally at this time,” said Matt Jacobs, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office. 

Government lawyers will monitor a separate crash probe by the National Transportation Safety Board, which has yet to determine the cause, Jacobs said Wednesday. The airline also faces dozens of wrongful death suits stemming from the crash. 

Alaska Airlines also agreed to pay a reported $500,000 to settle a libel suit and dropped its appeal of a $44,000 penalty imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration. 

The libel suit was filed by a senior mechanic who triggered the investigation when he told FAA officials in October 1998 that maintenance records at a plant in Oakland had been faked. 

The mechanic, John Liotine, was seeking $20 million. 

Liotine’s superiors placed him on paid leave in August 1999, saying he had become disruptive. 

Terms of the settlement were confidential, but The Seattle Times quoted a source as saying Liotine would receive about $500,000. 

The Seattle-based company also dropped its appeal of a $44,000 penalty imposed by the FAA, which determined that two planes were returned to service in 1998 and made more than 840 flights before maintenance paperwork was completed properly.  

Neither was the plane that crashed. 

In settling the suit and dropping the appeal, the company made no admission of wrongdoing. Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans would not comment late Wednesday on the decision against criminal charges. 

Since the probe began, the company’s maintenance operations have been overhauled and airline officials say there is little resemblance to how they were handled in 1998. 

Liotine became a key figure in the crash probe when investigators learned that in 1997 he recommended replacing the ill-fated MD-83’s jackscrew assembly, which controls up-and-down movements of the horizontal stabilizer — a part suspected of causing the crash. 

Liotine accused the company of posting false statements about him on its Web site, including a news release that said he was “incorrect” when he recommended replacement of the part. 

Another post-crash news release suggested Liotine went to the FAA because he was passed over for promotion by two supervisors he accused of falsifying maintenance records. 

In accepting the settlement, Liotine agreed to leave Alaska Airlines by the end of this month after 12 years with the company.