Ken Otto had just turned 50 years old a few weeks before he was killed on the job on a Boeing plane. Bostin Otto, Ken’s son, was 16 years old when he lost his dad.
Because of issues discovered with the complex NextGen AmSafe airbag seat belt system on some Boeing planes, Ken was assigned to address the airbags at the Boeing Everett site.
Between June 2013 and the date of the incident, employees of Jamco-America installed the NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt systems in Boeing aircraft seats in its passenger seat assembly factory. The seats with the attached airbag seat belt systems were then delivered to The Boeing Company for installation into aircraft.
Kenneth Otto was a Jamco America, Inc. (Jamco) commercial aircraft passenger seat
assembler. Before the date of the incident, he had installed more than 150 AmSafe seat belt systems onto aircraft seats in the Jamco passenger seat assembly factory.
Before the date of the incident, neither Jamco nor Vartan workers had ever installed a NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt system on a seat on Boeing aircraft on the Everett flight line. Before the date of the incident, NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt systems were installed on seats that were installed on a Boeing 777-300ER.
Some time after seat installation, while the plane was still on the flight line, the inflator was improperly triggered on the NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt system in business class single seat 12K on the starboard side. This event was a malfunction that resulted in the release of compressed Helium Argon and explosive inflation of the airbag.
Boeing did not observe nor document the malfunction at the time of occurrence. Because the spontaneous deployment of the airbag was indicative of a dangerous hazard, Boeing should have noted the occurrence and immediately contacted AmSafe to report the malfunction.
Before the incident, AmSafe did not create or circulate specific safety or procedural protocols that would apply in the event a defective NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt system needed to be repaired or removed and reinstalled when the seat was on an aircraft on the flight line.
AmSafe and Boeing knew or should have known that a defect within the NexGen AmSafe airbag system could trigger the unexpected discharge of compressed hazardous gas, which in turn could produce G-forces that could propel the device and pose a hazardous risk to the safety of persons in proximity.
AmSafe did not properly or adequately inspect the wire bundle components of the NexGen AmSafe seat belt airbag systems assembled on seats on Boeing airplanes prior to delivery to Boeing.
On or about November 13, 2014, Boeing contacted Jamco America Inc. (Jamco) to troubleshoot the NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt malfunction that occurred on seat 12K. Ken Otto was sent by Jamco, his employer, to the Boeing flight line at the aerospace facility located in Everett. He, along with another worker, was directed to the Boeing 777-300ER. They were instructed to remove and replace the seat belt, the EMA control box and inflator tube of seat 12K.
Boeing required that his work be performed within the tight confines of the airplane. No further guidance or assistance was provided to the two workers. The following photo taken after the incident, illustrates the tight confines of the plane.
Unbeknownst to Kenneth Otto and his co-worker, a pin to pin short circuit existed within the wire bundle that connected the battery inside the electronic sensor model to the inflator. The defect made it possible for the NexGen AmSafe airbag seat belt system to transmit an electrical signal from the EMA via an electrical shortage in the interface cable to the inflator’s ‘squib’ which could then discharge the inflator.
During the replacement process, the dangerous and defective seat belt system malfunctioned. An electrical signal was sent from the EMA via an electrical shortage to the interface cable to the inflator’s squib. Suddenly and without warning, the air-bag inflator discharged. Compressed Helium-Argon at 6,300-7,400 +- psig launched the partially attached device into Kenneth Otto’s face.
Ken Otto was on his knees in front of the seat bent over working on it, while his co-worker assisted by primarily handing him the tools. His co-worker left momentarily to obtain the stand offs from his car trunk. He returned to the airplane and got on his knees next to Ken. He handed over the stand offs and then turned the opposite direction to look into his tool bag for the zip ties. As he was in the process of turning back around, the co-worker heard what sounded like a gunshot. He jerked back in a ducking motion covering his head with his arms. He then immediately turned back around to check on Ken and saw that the right half of Ken’s face was gone.
Ken stood up and began to walk off the plane. Both Ken and his colleague were injured and in shock. Ken was asked to stay put and apply pressure to his face, while his colleague left the airplane to call for help.
Injuries and Death of Ken Otto
By the time the Everett Fire Department arrived, Ken was still indicating his desire to walk out down the stairs from the top of the plane door. He was covered in blood that continued to flow. His face was “split open completely” from the right eye (which was destroyed) down to the ride side of the nose into the mouth and jaw. His mouth was an open wound: teeth gone, tongue ripped, and his lips were missing.
Life flight was called but due to the massive facial trauma, Ken’s airway was compromised. He suffered respiratory arrest likely due to obstructed airway while being transported to Harborview where he remained until succumbing to his injuries on December 7, 2014.