Courtney Malpas remembers June 8, 2015, as the horrifying day that the pilot of Allegiant Air Flight 864 ordered an emergency landing after the crew reported smoke coming from the cabin.
Malpas of Chambersburg, Pa., said Friday in a Facebook interview that the pilot, Jason Kinzer, 43, remained calm as he explained to the 141 passengers on board that instead of continuing on to their destination at Hagerstown Regional Airport, he ordered an emergency landing at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in Florida.
After landing, escape slides were deployed from the sides of the plane, and flight attendants evacuated the 141 passengers, The Herald-Mail reported last year. Some passengers were forced to jump from the wing to evacuate. Five passengers and one flight attendant reported injuries at the scene.
But the incident raises questions.
Though it has been reported that smoke was coming from the cabin, Malpas said Kinzer told the passengers that it was coming from the cockpit.
Malpas said she never smelled smoke that day, and questions whether the pilot was telling the truth.
"I think the pilot did what he had to do, if there really was smoke in the cockpit," she said. "The flight attendants were ridiculously dramatic and terrifying in the way they instructed the passengers on what was happening and what to do. The pilot was calm and instructive, but, like I said, 'if there really was smoke.'"
The flight originally left St. Pete-Clearwater airport at 4:28 p.m. About eight minutes into the flight, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and returned to the airport.
Upon landing, fire and rescue personnel told Kinzer that some smoke was coming from the No. 1 engine, and urged the crew to shut it down. Kinzer then ordered the evacuation.
But Allegiant Air determined after its investigation that the evacuation was not needed, and terminated Kinzer's employment.
"You ordered an evacuation that was entirely unwarranted and, as a result, your conduct and decision-making on June 8 compromised the safety of your crew and your passengers and led directly to the injuries," Mark Grock, system chief pilot for the airlines, said in a July 23, 2015, termination letter to Kinzer.
"Furthermore, during a review of the event and in subsequent conversations, you have repeatedly insisted that you made a good decision to evacuate the aircraft and, if faced with a similar situation, you would follow the same course of action. It is for these reasons that your employment with Allegiant is terminated effective immediately," Grock said in the letter.
The letter is part of a 10-page complaint filed by Kinzer's lawyer, Michael J. Pangia, in Clark County (Nev.) District Court in November 2015.
The complaint is part of a wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit that Kinzer, a Florida resident, has filed against the Las Vegas-based airline in response to his termination.
Pangia did not return repeated telephone calls to his office for comment.
Pilot seeks judgment
Kinzer, who stands by his actions, is asking for a judgment against the airline of more than $10,000, to be determined by a jury, according to the complaint.
The money is to compensate for his loss of income due to his firing, humiliation, embarrassment, loss of reputation as a pilot and loss of his ability to find similar employment as a pilot or employee in the aviation industry.
"The discharge letter, signed by Mark Grock, Allegiant's chief pilot, as well as other writings and emails created by Allegiant, contain false and defamatory statements concerning Captain Kinzer," the complaint states.
Pre-trial testimony now is under way in court, according to a story published Tuesday by the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times.
The testimony of several Allegiant pilots, made public Monday, states that if presented with the same circumstances, they also would have evacuated the plane.
A pilot also testified that Kinzer's firing was a warning by the airline to its pilots, who then were engaged through their union in bitter contract negotiations with Allegiant.
Malpas continues to have questions.
"It there truly was smoke or an issue that affected the safety of the flight, then no, he did the right thing," she said. "If there was no smoke and he did it because of the recent issues the pilots had had with the airline, then yes. People were panicked, and some even were injured that day. It just depends on what the truth is."