An airline has been fined $15,625 following an incident late last year at Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama, where a ground crew worker died after she was "ingested" into an airplane engine.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Piedmont Airlines, an American Airlines subsidiary, after investigators determined the airline was at fault in the New Year's Eve death of Courtney Edwards, a ground agent for Piedmont Airlines.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that Edwards, a 34-year-old mother of three, approached American Airlines Flight 3408 after it had recently landed when she was sucked into the plane's engine. She did not survive.
The plane had just completed a trip from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.
OSHA's $15,625 penalty is the maximum under the law.
"The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or were likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees that were exposed to ingestion and jet blast hazards," OSHA said.
Crystal Byrd, a spokesperson at Piedmont Airlines, told Dallas Morning News the company is investigating the incident.
"Safety is always our top priority for our team members," Byrd said. "We appreciate the recommendations from OSHA and will ensure that a thorough review is accomplished."
The penalty comes after an NTSB preliminary report released in January was favorable to the airline. It said the ground crew at the airport held two safety briefings immediately before the plane arrived at the gate.
Employees were told they should not approach the plane until the engine was shut off and a beacon light was turned off, according to the NTSB report.
The co-pilot attempted to inform workers on the ground that the engines were still on but "Immediately thereafter, he saw a warning light illuminate and the airplane shook violently followed by the immediate automatic shutdown of the number 1 engine," the NTSB report read.
"Unsure of what had occurred, he extinguished the emergency lights and shut off both batteries before leaving the flight deck to investigate," the report continued.
Edwards was seen in surveillance footage behind the plane but disappeared from view.
"She was subsequently pulled off her feet and into the operating engine," the report reads.
The NTSB report suggested Edwards failed to keep at a safe distance until the airplane's rotating beacon light shut off.
American Airlines said in a statement released shortly after the incident, "We are devastated by the accident involving a team member of Piedmont Airlines, an American Airlines regional carrier, at Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM)."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and our local team members," the statement continued. "We are focused on ensuring that all involved have the support they need during this difficult time."
The company has 15 business days from receiving the citation to comply with paying its penalties.
A fundraiser was created online to support funeral costs and Edwards' children. It has raised more than $122,000 as of Tuesday morning.