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Potential catastrophe on Aruba flight results in lawsuit against charter airline
Published on August 22, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

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MIAMI, USA -- Two former flight attendants for Falcon Air Express have filed a lawsuit against the Miami-based charter airline claiming they were fired after reporting dangerous situations that could have endangered the lives of the passengers and crew during two flights last year to and from Aruba.

Case Number 14-016182 CA 01 was filed in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County and the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Roderick Hannah and Pelayo Duran, want to speak with any passengers who were onboard two flights on October 6, 2013, as they could provide more details about the experience.

“We believe this is a shocking case of retaliation that could have easily ended with a major air disaster with the death of approximately 145 passengers and crew on both flights,” said Duran. “We want to speak with the passengers who witnessed the chilling events that day. Our greatest fear is that Falcon Air was only concerned with cutting corners and avoiding paperwork instead of the safety and security of those lives on board the aircraft that could have exploded or crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.”

According to the lawsuit, Karla Aquino and Leidy Garafolo were flight attendants working in Falcon Flight #801 from Miami to Aruba on October 6, 2013. The employees said that they and the other flight attendants were finishing their service and picking up trash, when the L2 door in the galley area of the aircraft cracked open approximately 12 inches allowing air to rush noisily in the passenger cabin. Lawyers said that, as the cabin began to depressurize, passengers began to experience physical pain and express dismay and concern, questioning what had occurred, Aquino called her senior flight attendant, Iris Lopez, to inform her of the situation.

In response, Lopez suggested that ordinary napkins be used to try to fill the crack. Aquino informed Lopez, however, that the crack was too large to take such action. Lopez informed the flight attendants that there was nothing to be worried about and to simply take their seats, and apparently informed the head pilot, Captain Erlin Gonzalez, of the situation. No corrective action, however, was taken to secure the cabin prior to the aircraft landing in Aruba, and the flight attendants, including Aquino and Garofalo, experienced dizziness, feeling faint, and intense ear pain due to the decompression in the aircraft cabin door crack, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint states that after landing in Aruba, the plaintiffs objected to the obvious safety hazard and risk on board the aircraft, and refused to continue to fly in the aircraft until the problem was fixed. They met with Gonzales who, over lunch on October 6, explained to the plaintiffs what had occurred.

According to Gonzalez, the pilots were having trouble compressing the aircraft due to a burned out cable, which had caused the aircraft to over-pressurize, and which in turn had resulted in the fuselage and door cracking open. Gonzales stated to the plaintiffs that it was a “good thing” the door had cracked open because if it had not done so, the entire aircraft could have exploded due to the over-pressurization, potentially killing or seriously injuring the passengers and crew.

The lawsuit claims Gonzales further explained to the plaintiffs that, while his and the first officer’s oxygen masks had been available after the door cracked and were in fact used by them, the oxygen masks for the flight attendants and all passengers on board had failed to deploy. Gonzales further informed the plaintiffs that he had refused to call in the situation as an emergency because there was just too much paperwork involved and he did not want the passengers scared with fire trucks and other rescue vehicles on the ground.

Subsequently, on October 6, based on the representations that the mechanics had fixed the problem, the plaintiffs agreed to return to Miami from Aruba on board the same aircraft, this time designated Flight #802, according to the lawsuit.

However, on the return flight the same, unnatural wind rushing noise, while not as loud as the first flight, was heard in the cabin from the L2 doorway, and the pilots, with knowledge of the dangerous situation and in an apparent attempt to reduce the in-rushing wind noise, erratically flew the aircraft at various different altitudes, causing the flight to be extremely bumpy and causing the flight attendants, including the plaintiffs, and the passengers to experience extreme discomfort and feel ill.

Lopez further explained to the plaintiffs that she would prepare a report of the incident and that Gonzales would do so, as well, once they had returned to Miami.

The lawsuit states that on October 7, Aquino and Garofalo contacted in-flight manager Cyndy Nicholson to discuss their experiences from the previous day and to complain verbally and in writing about what had occurred. In this meeting, Nicholson informed the plaintiffs that neither Lopez nor Gonzales had filed reports about the situation.

On October 9, the plaintiffs were called into a meeting with Falcon’s human resource manager, and were told that they were fired, according to the lawsuit. The reason giving for the termination was that the plaintiffs had been insubordinate to the captain and senior flight attendant on board the flights. Aquino was accused of sleeping on board the aircraft the lawsuit stated.

Attorneys said the former flight attendants are seeking backpay and lost benefits; reasonable front pay if reinstatement is not possible; compensatory damages for emotional distress, humiliation and loss of dignity; and attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs.
 
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