JALways Terror In The Sky





JALways Terror In The Sky

By Melissa Michaels

January 6, 2009 - What would you do if you were a pilot who discovered that another pilot was so sick that he posed a serious threat to the safety of a flight? Letís say you reported the sick pilot to the company management, but they did not respond to you.

Would you persist in pursuing your cause at the risk of losing your job? If that scenario seems overly dramatic consider the fact that it happened and resulted in the death of an American pilot. In June 2001, an extremely sick pilot was instructed to operate passenger flights despite his illness.


Japan Airlines (JAL), its subsidiary JALways, and Hawaii Aviation Contract Services, Inc. (HACS), the pilot contract leasing company, were named in a wrongful termination lawsuit by crewmembers. Who claimed they were retaliated against after reporting the sick pilot to company management and believe there is a conspiracy to cover-up the evidence that may have contributed to the eventual death of the pilot. Former JALways Captain Jack Crawford and Second Officer Martin Ventress wrote safety reports after JALways Vice President, Captain Kazuo Hanami instructed pilot Jeff Bicknell to continue to operate passenger flights even though he was deathly ill. JAL denied the reports; but, Crawford reported one flight and Ventress experienced three flights, in which he detailed in two safety reports. 

Ventress warned Hanami of Bicknellís illness prior to flight, and noted that during a flight from Hawaii, Bicknell became incapacitated and collapsed at the flight controls. After the near-fatal accident, the DC-10 aircraft arrived in Japan. The more than 200 passengers were unaware of the terror in the sky that nearly cost their lives. Bicknell then, collapsed on the crew bus and was rushed to the hospital, where JAL doctors ordered that he be returned back to Hawaii just hours after he arrived. In doing so, JAL violated one of its own rules that exceeded the maximum crew duty day of a pilot, worsening the condition of the already extremely sick pilot.     

Doctors in Hawaii diagnosed Bicknell with brain cancer. JAL, JALways, and HACS failed to conduct any verifiable investigation of the near-fatal mishap and kept silent regarding safety violations that included pilots are prohibited from flying sick. According to JALís Operations Manual, it is mandatory for the Captain to report any violations, such as incapacitated pilot. When Hanami refused to submit the report, Ventress submitted safety reports to JAL, JALways, HACS, and other U.S. Government Agencies that included the FAA; yet no verifiable investigation was ever conducted.


In 1992, Crawford and Ventress began flying for JALways; but, after the Bicknell incidents, JALways began harassing Crawford by administering unnecessary and excessive flight evaluations subjecting Ventress to unprecedented psychiatric evaluations, drug screenings and flight physicals. Ventress cleared eight medical evaluations in 12-months that were administered on the mainland United States. 

However, when JALís Dr. Jack Scaff examined Ventress in Hawaii, he created a false psychological profile, was neither a Psychiatrist, nor a Psychologist; but rather, a Cardiologist that fabricated an additional step to determine a psychological diagnosis that is not even recognized by the world of mental health professionals. JALways used Scaffís recommendation to order Ventress to see Japanese Psychiatrists in Tokyo that medically disqualified him, which JALways used as a convenient medical pretext to terminate him.   

Crawford, who was also fired without just cause, and Ventress, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. To determine who was to blame for actually firing them, JALways pointed to the contract that HACS was the employer; thus the liable party. HACS did not actually fire Crawford or Ventress; but rather, JALways fired them. In the JALways and HACS contract, JALways agrees to pay HACS to accept liability for its legal disputes; both parties point the finger at each other as to blame. The scam shields JAL and JALways from all U.S. liability; this way, JAL, JALways and HACS escape all liability.   

The District Court in Hawaii dismissed the case on the grounds that a 1953 (FCN) Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Treaty, allows Japanese companies to have an absolute right to employ employees covered by the FCN Treaty without regard to U.S. employment laws; and the treaty right includes their terminating Crawford and Ventress and insulates that action from liability under that state law. (U.S. District Court of Hawaii: Case # 00451-SPK-LEK; 00581-SPK-LEK)   

Crawford and Ventress appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that court determined: We hold that the district court [Hawaii] erred and that such logic would lead to absurd results. The appeals court reversed the District Courtís ruling for JAL and remanded the case back to Hawaii for further proceedings.     

JAL then sought protection under U.S. Federal Laws to argue for another dismissal under the Federal Airline Deregulation Act, because Ventress behavior had the potential to disrupt JALís services, because he challenged JALways Captain Hanami regarding Bicknellís deteriorating health. The District Court of Hawaii again agreed with JAL and dismissed the case. Ventress has since filed another appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court, which is currently pending.   

JALís attempts to have the case dismissed before any overwhelming evidence can be introduced to the court have continued to burden the courts for more than seven years, which serves only to benefit the financial interests of the attorneys. JALís actions sidestep the unresolved issue that Bicknell was pushed to the brink of exhaustion, became incapacitated and collapsed during several flights that left him with brain cancer and in a vegetative state by the end of June 2001. Bicknell died of brain cancer at 38-years old. He left a wife and son, and many wondering why JAL allowed a pilot to continue flying while extremely ill. Only JAL Captain Hanami, who finds refuge in Japan and Martin Ventress who finds legal corruption in Hawaii, know what really happened. Other pilots that knew Bicknell was sick must have considered the risk of losing a job and career rather than reporting the problem. 

Feedback: MichaelsReport@gmail.com <Melissa Michaels>

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