Lax oversight and the recklessness of a group of mechanics at Newark Liberty Airport led to the death of a worker who walked into the spinning propeller blades of a plane three years ago, according to a lawsuit filed by the victim's family in Essex County.
Jacqueline Mkalama, 53, of Orange, was tasked with cleaning planes between flights at the airport, said Joseph Monaco, the family’s attorney. But she died on Sept. 2, 2017 when the propeller blade of a Bombardier DHC-8202 struck her on the head as she walked on the airport apron, according to the lawsuit filed last month in state Superior Court.
Monaco said the mechanics, whom the suit referred to but did not name, failed to make sure a spotter stood on the ground below to warn others of the potential danger as they worked in the cockpit. The spotter who was supposed to be there was in his car instead, Monaco added.
"These propellers, especially at night, are essentially invisible," said Monaco, who filed the suit on behalf of Mkalama's sister, Theresa Sikinyi. "This was a woman who was trying to do her job, trying to get from one point to another to clean the next plane and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a devastating loss for her family."
The lawsuit names United Airlines, which hired the mechanics, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. It requests "equitable relief" as well as the costs of the suit.
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Representatives for the Port Authority and United Airlines declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
The suit also names the Port Authority Police Department and CommutAir, a United subsidiary. Reached on Wednesday, a CommutAir spokesperson called Mkalama's death an "unfortunate accident" but declined to comment further.
The lawsuit said the accident happened in a Terminal A maintenance area. It blamed United and the Port Authority for failing to provide a safe place for Mkalama to do her work and alleged the airline was negligent when it hired mechanics and operators who "lacked the capacity and ability to perform their job."
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Mkalama was walking outside from the rear to the front of the plane when she wandered into the propeller's arc, according to a copy of the police report provided by Monaco.
"We were cleaning the gas filters and were almost done," one of the mechanics told police, according to the report. "So we began to start the propellers up in order to return gas to the engines. Suddenly I felt a vibration and immediately I turned the engine off knowing something was wrong.
"I exited the plane to find [Mkalama] laying on the ground."
Mkalama was unconscious but still alive after the accident, according to authorities. Emergency medical personnel treated her and then brought her to University Hospital in Newark, where she died, the report said.
The family filed suit in New York State two years ago, describing the same allegations, but a New York appellate judge ruled the case should be filed in New Jersey, Monaco said.
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news about those who safeguard your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Family of Newark Airport worker killed by plane propeller sues