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After mishap, air carrier reinforces safety checks

Emergency exit opened as plane moved down Minnesota runway

The company that provides daily passenger flights at the Altoona-Blair County Airport has taken steps to prevent a repeat mishap like the one May 5 at the Minneapolis airport, a company leader said.

Boutique Air Vice President Brian Kondrad, in an email to the Altoona Mirror, said his company has taken steps to reinforce the pilot safety pre-flight checklist.

“We are confident this incident will never occur again,” Kondrad said in the email.

At the Minneapolis airport on May 5, the emergency exit/cargo door of a Boutique aircraft, a Pilatus PC-12, opened unexpectedly as the aircraft moved down the runway in preparation for takeoff. Two pilots and five passengers were aboard.

“It happened so fast and it was so unusual,” Mike Parra, a Colorado resident who was on board the flight, told KBJR-TV of Duluth, Minn. “We were all looking at each other like, ‘Did that just really happen?'”

Passenger Tom Yon told KBJR-TV and radio station WUPM of Ironwood, Mich., that his carry-on bag “got sucked right out of the aircraft” during what was a noisy, windy and scary incident.

“If there would have been a person sitting on the plane with a baby on their lap, I don’t know what would have happened,” Yon said.

Kondrad clarified that while the aircraft door opened, the door never separated from the aircraft as reported after the incident and no structural damage was incurred. After the door opened, he said the pilots returned the aircraft to the gate.

“We are especially thankful that the passengers and crew are safe,” Kondrad said in the email.

At the May 10 meeting of the Gogebic-Iron County Airport Authority, which depends on Boutique to provide flights from its location in northwest Michigan to the Minneapolis airport, Boutique Airlines CEO Shawn Simpson was among those attending. He and company personnel acknowledged that the flight’s pilots had failed to complete a pre-flight checklist, which permitted the emergency exit/cargo door to open.

Simpson told the authority that after the incident, both pilots were suspended pending an investigation, then were fired.

“It is the end of their careers for both of them with Boutique Air,” Simpson said in a video presented by KBJR-TV.

Boutique currently provides passenger flights through the Essential Air Service program managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation to serve the Gogebic-Iron County Airport. Its contract is valid through July 31, 2022, but at the May 10 meeting, Boutique personnel also advised the Gogebic-Iron County Airport Authority of its plan to resign from its contract to provide passenger flight service there.

Boutique’s contract to serve the Altoona-Blair County Airport, also through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, is valid through Dec. 31, 2022. Under that contract, Boutique provides daily flights to and from the Pittsburgh and Baltimore/Washington International airports.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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