July 10th, 2009
06:29 PM ET
13 years ago

Report: Secret Service off hook in 2008 Obama plane mishaps

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A preliminary report on the mysterious deployment of an evacuation chute aboard a Barack Obama campaign plane last summer appears to close the book on one potentially embarrassing possibility - that Secret Service agents inadvertently tampered with the chute mechanism during preflight security checks.

"An internal (Secret Service) investigation ... revealed that no (Secret Service) personnel or ... support personnel interfered with or altered the aircraft's ... tailcone evacuation slide," a National Transportation Safety Board report says.

Then-candidate Obama was on the MD-81 charter aircraft at the time of the July 7, 2008, incident, accompanied by his staff, Secret Service personnel, reporters and the plane's crew. An airline mechanic was also on board and was seated in the rear of the aircraft not far from the evacuation slide in the plane's tailcone.

But neither the flight crew nor the mechanic heard the chute deploy shortly after the plane took off from Chicago's Midway airport.

The pilot first noticed that something was amiss when the plane's nose-up pitch continued to increase, even without his input, the safety board said. The pilot regained control using the control column and stabilizer pitch trim inputs.

The plane diverted to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and made an uneventful landing.

The report says lines of "grease-like material" were found on the slide, seemingly confirming early speculation that the inflated slide had rubbed up against the plane's control cables.

While the report does not give the cause of the incident, it does hint at two possible factors that, acting together, could have caused the chute to deploy.

It says investigators conducted tests in an effort to recreate the incident. In one test, forward tie-down straps were left unsecured. When an inflation lanyard was released the slide inflated, pushing aside its cover in much the same manner as the 2008 incident.

Investigators also said flight recorder data shows the plane took off at a steeper-than-usual angle, and there was sufficient inertia "to allow an unsecured slide cover to rotate open" and inflate the slide.

But safety board investigators generally warn against people drawing early conclusions about the causes of accidents, and spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said a final report is expected later this summer.

The evacuation chute mechanism on the McDonnell Douglas plane is unlike those found on many commercial planes. The chute is deployed when a mechanism in the plane's aft bulkhead door jettisons the plane's tailcone. The tailcone falls away from the plane and an attached lanyard pulls open a cover over the evacuation chute, the safety board said. This in turn rotates the slide pack and a second lanyard triggers an inflation cylinder that inflates the slide.

The Obama plane's chute had been inspected one month before the mishap, the report said, and "no anomalies were noted."

After the Obama plane mishap, Midwest Airlines, operator of the charter, released a maintenance bulletin adding an additional check to ensure the security of the slide cover tie-down straps.

Updated at 1:55 p.m. EDT

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Tatianna

    For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really embarrassed of my country

    July 10, 2009 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  2. Mark,B'ham,Al.

    Did they check and see if the maintenence was done overseas or did an illegal immigrant (one that overstayed his VISA) do the work here in the USA. Both have been happening alot to national airlines.

    July 10, 2009 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  3. George Washington

    what does this have to do with allowing CEOs of failed companies to rediculously receive large bonuses?

    July 10, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  4. Pamma

    Bush is to blame!!

    July 10, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  5. Jeremy

    CNN....When are you going to replace John King shame with something serving and deserving? We are tired of his pure Republican coverage! CNN,earn your neutral respect back or bring in Sean Hannity and Rush to support King.

    July 10, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  6. Let us learn......

    As a maintenance supervisor and former mechanic for the last 29 years in the manufacturing field, I've come to realize that things rattle, shake, move, break, wear-out, fray, and break, sometimes just because "God (or whoever your deity is) deemed-it-so". Even, oh my gosh, human error. Physics is still not a perfect science, much as we would like to believe, that is why we call it science. We are learning every day. This is why we have investigations. To learn. Even 'Brand New' products fail that are made to exacting standards.

    Let us allow the investigators do their jobs without hinderance, redefamation, or snide. it is a difficult process. Been there, done that, got people off the hook that were presupposed guilty when they were not. Also taught good men and women how to do their jobs better through proper training.

    I seriously doubt there is any conspiracy. Maybe, could be.....but I doubt it.

    Let us learn from this incident for the safety of all of us that fly our nations airlines.

    I would hope for that patience and respect. How about you?

    Thank You.

    July 10, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  7. Pat K

    I assume this problem would not exist on Air Force One.

    July 10, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  8. AJ

    How do you do something like this inadvertently? Looks like a cover-up or a whitewash to me.

    July 10, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  9. Frank

    Yeah, nothing to see here... except maybe the evil hand of Dick Cheney at work. I have never underestimated the depths to which Cheney will stoop. For eight years he and Bush lied to us, and thousands of Americans died in Iraq as a result of those lies.

    July 10, 2009 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  10. the rector

    Why did a candidate for the presidency have a ss detail? This is exactly what is wrong with the economy and this country. As long as we treat these people like they are irreplacable and invaluable, they will keep screwing us to the wall. Just think about this, the bush twins have, at this very moment, several well paid government employees "protecting" them. Protecting them from what? There are ex-judges, ex-preses and their famalies who "require" secret service protection because they have all contributed so much to the world that the loss of any of them would spell disaster for us all. Put these public servants in their place, behind the rest of us! Sorry for the rant, but the article missed this very illuminating facet of american politics and I felt compelled to illeterate it for anyone who is interested in an alternative view.

    July 10, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  11. JAY

    Obama should have been in the senate doing his job the
    American people were paying him for. If he wanted to fly
    all over the country campaigning for president he should
    resigned from the senate.

    July 10, 2009 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  12. makesUwonder

    That's what I love about CNN.com...........they are on top of the news

    July 10, 2009 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  13. Dan, NY

    Who cares.

    July 10, 2009 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  14. Zac

    Thanks, CNN – now I can sleep tonight

    July 10, 2009 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  15. Limbaugh is a liberal

    I'm sure the GOP will use this to 'show' that Obama is making the country less safe... even though the Secret Service in 2008 was still under Bush Jr.'s control, and Obama hasn't changed a single homeland security policy since then, (other than increasing funding for it) not even domestic spying.

    July 10, 2009 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  16. Peter E

    Back early 20th century it was 'bear hunting accident.' By later that century it was 'skiing accidents.' At the start of the new millenium it became 'plane crashes.' Call it what you want, they happen more frequently to politicians, and especially when an untimely death would be very convenient for their opponents.
    Of course, one can just be direct, like they were for JFK and RFK.

    July 10, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
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