USA TODAY US Edition
Alleged Oath Keepers member says she met Secret Service before riot
Boeing 777s in spotlight but still flying with different engine types
Jessica Watkins, an alleged leader of the paramilitary group Oath Keepers who was arrested for her role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, said in a court filing over the weekend that she had traveled to Washington to provide security for speakers at former President Donald Trump’s rally that day, that she had met with the Secret Service in advance, and that she had a VIP pass.
The 38-year-old Ohio woman also said she believed she was acting on a call from Trump to support, not overthrow, the government.
“Ms. Watkins did not engage in any violence or force at the Capitol grounds or in the Capitol,” her federal public defender, A.J. Kramer, said in a motion seeking her release to home confinement filed Saturday in federal court for the District of Columbia. “She did not vandalize anything or engage in any destruction of property. She was polite to the police officers she encountered.”
Watkins has been in federal custody since her arrest Jan. 17. U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta has scheduled a hearing Tuesday to consider whether to keep Watkins in custody.
Watkins and Donovan Crowl, 50, were among some of the first arrested after the attack, along with Thomas Caldwell, 65, from Virginia who is suspected of coordinating with them. Investigators say they and others are part of the Oath Keepers militia.
Oath Keepers focuses recruitment on former military, law enforcement and first responders and has chapters around the country. In Ohio, Watkins called herself the “commanding officer” of the Ohio State Regular Militia. In an affidavit the FBI filed in court against Watkins, agents said the militia members are dues-paying members of the Oath Keepers.
Federal prosecutors have sought to keep Watkins and others in custody, noting their involvement in the Oath Keepers and potential dangers to the community if they were released.
In a court filing opposing Caldwell’s release, prosecutors wrote that “as evidenced by (Watkins’) conduct leading up to, during, and after the attack on the Capitol, Watkins exhibited a singleminded devotion to obstruct through violence an official proceeding that, on Jan. 6, was designed to confirm the next president of the United States. Crimes of this magnitude, committed with such zeal, belie any conditions of release that would reasonably assure the safety of the community or by which Watkins could be trusted to abide.”
But Watkins’ filing seeking release paints a different picture: that of a former U.S. Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, a small business owner hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and a transgender woman at risk behind bars.
Watkins’ attorney says she “fell prey to the false and inflammatory claims of the former president, his supporters and the right-wing media.”
“Although misguided, she believed she was supporting the Constitution and her government by providing security services at the rally organized by Mr. Trump and the Republican lawmakers who supported his goals,” the filing document adds.
Kramer noted in court documents that Watkins has no history of violence or criminal convictions, that she provided her contact information to officers at the scene on Jan. 6, and that she turned herself in to local police when she learned of her arrest warrant.
Watkins entered the Capitol building 40 minutes after it had been breached, the court documents state: “By the time Ms. Watkins allegedly entered the Capitol grounds and into the building, the doors were opened. No police officer suggested that the building was restricted or that Ms. Watkins was required to leave.”
The FBI, however, has noted that there are indications others took part in a conspiracy, sending messages directing Caldwell toward members of Congress.FBI documents say he also received the following messages via Facebook while at the Capitol on Jan. 6:
“Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3 floors down.”
“Do like we had to do when I was in the core (sic) start tearing out floors, go from top to bottom.”
“Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down step.”
A half-dozen other suspected members of the group also were arrested in the past week as co-defendants in the case against Watkins and Crowl. Authorities said the Oath Keepers planned for Jan. 6, forcibly entered the U.S. Capitol with other rioters, and attempted to delete social media posts and other information about their involvement.
An engine failure on a United Airlines flight from Colorado to Hawaii that rained aircraft parts over suburban Denver on Saturday has thrust the Boeing 777, aircraft engine types and fan blades into the spotlight.
The plane returned to Denver safely, and there were no injuries reported among the 231 passengers and 10 crew members or Colorado residents, but images from the incident and passenger reports have shaken travelers and left them with countless questions about one of the airline industry’s go-to wide-body jets for Europe and Hawaii flights.
Video taken from inside the plane shows the right engine on fire and part of the engine cover missing. The piece landed in a yard in Broomfield, Colorado.
“The plane started shaking violently, and we lost altitude, and we started going down,” David Delucia, who was sitting directly across the aisle from the side with the failed engine, told The Associated Press. “When it initially happened, I thought we were done. I thought we were going down.”
United only US airline with that type of engine
The Federal Aviation Administration said there are 128 older Boeing 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000 engines.
United is the only U.S. carrier with planes with the affected engines. The airline had 24 in operation and 28 in storage during the pandemic before voluntarily grounding them late Sunday. United passengers will be accommodated on other flights.
The grounding is a step further than the FAA’s directive to step up inspections on Boeing 777s with the Pratt & Whitney engines, specifically the fan blades.
The other airlines operating 777s with the Pratt & Whitney engines are in Japan and South Korea, the FAA said. They include Japan Airlines, ANA and Korean Airlines. The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau grounded them.
Yes, you still might be booked on a Boeing 777
United has 44 other Boeing 777s, all with GE engines, which are not affected by United’s 777 grounding or the FAA directive. The airline will use one of those planes, for example, to fly between San Francisco and Taipei, Taiwan, in March instead of one of its grounded 777s, according to United spokesman Charlie Hobart.
American Airlines has 67 Boeing 777s in its fleet. They are powered by Rolls-Royce and GE engines, which also aren’t affected by the FAA’s directive. The planes were used for international flying before the pandemic and are now frequently used for flights within the USA, spokesman Sarah Jantz said.
Delta Air Lines retired its 18 Boeing 777s last year, earlier than planned because of the plunge in international travel under COVID-19 restrictions and health concerns. The final Delta 777 flight was a New York-toLos Angeles flight in October. The airline, which began flying the jet between Atlanta and London in 1999, called it the end of an era and praised the jet as a “workhorse.”
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said retiring a fleet as “iconic” as the 777 was not an easy decision, given its role in the airline’s international growth.
“I’ve flown on that plane often, and I love the customer experience it has delivered over the years,” he said in a statement before the final flight last fall.
Failures rare but potentially catastrophic
United Flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu experienced what is called an uncontained engine failure.
That means parts exited the engine despite protective coverings and other safety measures.
Uncontained failures are more dramatic and tend to be more dangerous than other engine failures because of the potential damage the errant parts can inflict on the plane, according to Ed Coleman, chairman of the safety science department at Embry Riddle Aeronautical
University in Prescott, Arizona, and director of the school’s Robertson Safety Institute.
“When things come out of the engine, you don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said. “Some puncture fuel tanks ... or they set something on fire.”
In April 2018, an uncontained engine failure on a Southwest flight killed a 43-year-old mother of two.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the Southwest engine failure found that a crack in an engine fan blade caused it to break off and hit the fan cover at a critical point near some latches. The impact caused the cover to open and sent some parts into the fuselage. One part punctured a window, fatally injuring Jennifer Riordan, the passenger in the window seat.
Overall, the number of engine failures is “infinitesimally small,” Coleman said. “This is an anomaly more than a routine thing.
“They’re pretty rare because of the inspection procedures,” Coleman said. “Engines have specific times that they get torn down and looked at.”
Coleman, a former Air Force pilot, said pilots are routinely trained to handle engine failures, uncontained and contained. He said the United pilots’ tone on air traffic control recordings during the incident underscores that.
“Their voices don’t even go up an octave,” he said. He has investigated military engine failures and experienced one uncontained engine failure in his career and about a dozen other engine failures that required him to shut down the engine.
United had similar engine failure in 2018
Saturday’s incident wasn’t the first uncontained failure for United on a Boeing 777 flight to Hawaii.
In February 2018, a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii, on a plane with the same Pratt & Whitney engine, lost its engine cover after a fan blade separated during the plane’s descent into Honolulu.
The flight made an emergency landing, but there were no injuries to the 363 passengers and 10 crew members. The plane had minor damage.
New engine inspection procedures were put in place to avoid a repeat.
“When a fan blade breaks, it’s usually because there’s some kind of missed crack,” Coleman said.
It’s early, but the similarity between the two incidents will be zeroed in on by the NTSB, he said.
“My guess is they will look at those inspection procedures very closely and determine what was missed and how it was missed,” he said.
The United Boeing 777 involved in the incident in 2018 returned to service at United. Late Saturday, United used the plane to fly passengers taken off Flight 328 on a later flight to Honolulu.