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. Don

    Wow now this news. I have been waiting for the truth to come out. Please don't hold back any longer. I am so exciting here I can not hardly stand it.

    July 10, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  2. GOPBslapper

    And of course the Secret Service would no more lie than the CIA would........whoopsie

    July 10, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  3. Robert

    Im surprised that Levi Johnston has no comment on this....SHeesh

    July 10, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. turn Texas blue

    Good post,I believe every word.hahaha

    July 10, 2009 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  5. jaye

    Were any republicans around the plane???

    July 10, 2009 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  6. SentSovi

    Old, irrelevant news. C'mon! Is this really worth the on-line electrons?

    July 10, 2009 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  7. Steve in NYC

    It's Bush's fault!!!

    July 10, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  8. Aspen Professor

    SARAH did it!

    July 10, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  9. Carlos

    Great now they can start working on the big photo op NYC joyride that the nobama ss took to the tune of about a million bucks.

    July 10, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  10. Steve

    wonder if the CIA had anything to do with it?........ Ask Pelosi, she'll get to the bottom of it.

    July 10, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  11. Michael

    Bush caused this!

    July 10, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  12. Tom

    The report doesn't say whether the Secret Service were Republicans or not. If so further investigation is deffinately waranted!

    July 10, 2009 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  13. kevin

    This story is lame. CNN is becoming more and more tabloid fodder!

    July 10, 2009 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  14. Michael, Pensacola, FL

    Probably just one of the Hillarites (clinton) attempt to take him out during the campaign!

    July 10, 2009 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  15. lkinopfl

    Why are they off the hook???? Are they trying to kill the president or something????? Worse stuff than this has happened in our history before, hopefully this is not a repeat of some of the messed up crap that's happened. something is really fishy about this, I don't know, they need to straight up do a thorough investigation before just simply Dismissing something like this!

    July 10, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  16. Ryan

    I thank god that no real accident happened though. We need god's son alive and well making policy that he thinks will actually work.

    July 10, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  17. is it ever the secret service's fault

    and would they admit it or talk about it?

    July 10, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  18. Sam I Am

    It's a little disconcerting that anyone would even question the Secret Service. But if you read article, the Secret Service cleared themselves of any wrong doing. Let's see, hmmmm.....sounds a lot like the Bush administration. Should we be worried?

    I'm guessing this plane was actually meant for Palin, so she'd have the option to bail out on her job early.

    July 10, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  19. neo-facism in the 21st century...

    I would be inclined to wonder about the dubious role of bush's "secret" service in having the unexplained events happening around obama that rendered his life in somewhat jeopardy. Remember folks, that these individuals did work for gwb, at the time. How convenient, if something were to happen to obama in mid-flight. Good thing he survived it, I don't think anyone could tolerate another eight years of adolf w. bush, or joseph "dick" stalin in power. Just the fact that they used illegal wiretaps (WITHOUT going first thru the FISA court!), or the illegal circumvention and blatant disregard for the geneva conventions, or the illegal war that was a war of choice (cheney bullying cia employees into saying that saddam had wmd's when cheney knew full well that they didn't but went there daily until they relented. I don't like that bush-cheney illegally gave up our cia operatives' identity for political gain, that was not cool. All told, the overwhelming majority of americans want the bush regime put to trial for High Treason and breaking the law. But, the lawmakers will never give in to the american public, because they are just as guilty as the bush administration officials.

    July 10, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  20. Randall in Torrance - Desert Storm Veteran

    Two possibilities here. The first one is that Cheney, Limbaugh, Rove or some right wing hate group saboteur tried to sabotage the plane. The second possibility is that there is a poorly designed piece of equipment that must be replaced immediately. The Department of Defense and probably the FAA has a safety mishap reporting process in place whereby whenever there is a mishap or potential mishap resulting from faulty equipment that can cause the loss of life or limb, the plane is grounded until the problem is fixed to 100% operational capacity. There should be zero guessing about this. This is an engineering problem it seems that can be identified and correctly repaired. But, if Obama was not flying on a DoD aircraft, then my hunch is that it was due to random circumstances that nobody noticed during pre-flight checks or routine maintenance. But at least now President Obama is flying on Air Force One, which is probably the best maintained aircraft in the world. The DoD has the best safety and maintenance process hands down. Everything is done with meticulous detail and no flight is released unless it is for certain the aircraft is completely safe to fly.

    July 10, 2009 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  21. Joe in Austin

    Wow, an uncontrolled pitch-up attitude is really dangerous. I hadn't heard of the issue before.

    July 10, 2009 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  22. phoenix86

    Meanwhile, back in Iran...North Korea...2+ million unemployed since Obama took over...increased taxes for all Americans......

    July 10, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  23. stevie

    didn't they blame this on bush?

    July 10, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  24. Concerned Douglas Pilot

    For those of you who fly on commercial airlines, this is a very important story. Forget the political aspect.

    The entire fleet of Douglas narrow body aircraft have the same slide/tail cone system. If it's possible for a slide raft to inflate inside a tailcone, the results could be catastrophic if the inflated slide comes in contact with the flight control cables.

    I will be interested to see what comes of the final report.

    July 10, 2009 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |

    this is news to me. Was it around the time Clinton talked about the possibility of an accident happening? Please check the timing.

    July 10, 2009 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
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