By Howard Schwach
Stan Molin is a thoughtful man. His 35 years as a pilot for Eastern Airlines taught him to handle all sorts of emergencies with calm reason. Now, however, his son, Sten, is under attack by anonymous detractors, and Molin is reacting like any other father put in that position.
Sten was the first officer on American Airlines Flight 587 when it crashed into Belle Harbor last November. He was at the controls of the Airbus A300-600.
Last week, reports based on the testimony of "unnamed investigators" said that Molin had, in the past, used the control surfaces of the planes that he flew in an inappropriate manner when he encountered wake turbulence (See Wave, October 19, front page).
The reports used words such as "awfully aggressive" and "abrupt" to describe Molin’s flying ability.
Those reports angered Molin.
"They are doing a hatchet job on my son," Molin told The Wave. "They used unnamed sources to write an unbalanced story that took a small factor and blew it up to major proportions."
"The story made it sound like he had a history of inappropriate flying," Molin added. "If that were true, somebody would have seen it and would have taken him off the job long before then."
Molin was asked who he believed was behind the hatchet job that the article represented.
The former pilot indicated that he was not sure he wanted to say.
"I have a suspicion, but I’d rather not speculate on that," he said. "I have become very guarded since the crash. "I would expect somebody like Airbus to make a bid deal out of a report like this. I would suspect the NTSB less than Airbus. I don’t think it was either of them."
The report broke in the New York Times on October 16. The Wave has confirmed from John Hotard, a spokesperson for the airlines based in Fort Worth, Texas, that a briefing was held by American Airlines in Washington, D.C. on either October 13 or 14 for several reporters who "regularly cover the aviation beat, the NTSB, in the capitol."
One of those at the special, invitation-only briefing was Matthew Wald of the New York Times, the man who "broke" the unattributed story the next day.
"We just briefed the writers who regularly cover the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)," Hotard told The Wave. "We got a couple of pilots who were involved with the plane and discussed what we saw as the issues coming up in the hearing. We talked mostly about technical and certification issues."
Hotard said that there was no transcript made of the meeting and he personally did not know what was discussed, except in general terms.
American Airlines issued a public statement on the newspaper reports after it ran in the Times.
"The Boeing 727 Captain mentioned in the New York Times story told American Airlines of his flying experience with the Flight 587 Co-Pilot," the statement said. "American then reported this statement to the NTSB."
The NTSB will hold a five-day hearing beginning on October 29 in Washington to take testimony from experts about the crash. They are not expected to hear from any eyewitnesses, nor are they expected to come to any conclusions at the meeting.
Stan Molin is not the only one angry at the leaked report.
Ted Wissing, an airline first officer and a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American Airline pilots, first officers and flight engineers, said he was "outraged" by the investigator’s leaks as well as by the article itself.
"The NTSB has testimony from both flight engineers who were aboard the same flights that directly contradicts the captain’s testimony," Wissing said. "In addition, the NTSB has testimony from captains who flew more than 70 flights with First Officer Molin who have nothing but praise for his piloting abilities."
None of that testimony was included in the New York Times article.
Molin plans to attend the hearing later this week. He will not be called to testify, although he was questioned extensively by a psychologist working for the NTSB’s "Human Performance" team.
"They asked me about my son, his habits, how he learned to fly," Molin said. "My statement is on the public record.
"They didn’t talk to me before that, and they haven’t contacted me since," he said.
"Somebody had defamed my son," he concluded. "It has caused me and my family lots of pain."
Victor Trombettas, who had written a number of columns on the crash for The Wave, will be covering the meeting for this paper. Look for his coverage in future newspapers.