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Panel falls at Milwaukee airport, injuring teen

Associated Press Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A decorative panel at Milwaukee’s main airport fell and injured a passenger over the weekend, leading to a full inspection of all similar panels, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker said Monday.

The fiberglass piece fell without warning Saturday about 1 p.m. at Mitchell International Airport. According to a sheriff’s report obtained by WISN-TV, the panel hit an 18-year-old man in the head, causing a 6-inch cut.

Airport maintenance crews were “shocked” the panel fell because similar pieces proved to be stubbornly adhered when workers tried to move them in the past, Walker said.

“They don’t know why it came off,” he said.

The accident happened a month after a more serious collapse at a downtown parking garage. In that case a massive concrete slab broke off in a downtown parking structure, killing a 15-year-old boy and injuring two other people.

That June 24 collapse triggered a round of emergency inspections at about 100 county buildings. That included inspections of at least five airport buildings, but not Concourse D, where the accident occurred.

The inspection process is about two-thirds complete, Walker said.

The airport panel that hit the passenger weighed about 14 pounds and had a consistency similar to drywall, airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said. The teen declined treatment because his flight was boarding, she said.

The decorative panels, which are stamped to look like ceramic pieces, had been in place since the concourse opened 20 years ago, Rowe said. There were no similar accidents in the past, Rowe added.

“This is an aberration,” she said.

The identity of the injured passenger has not been released. The Milwaukee County sheriff’s office did not return telephone messages or e-mails seeking access to the accident report.

Walker didn’t release many details about the status of the parking-garage inspection. He did say the accident wasn’t a case of insufficient inspections.

“What we have found thus far is that no normal inspection would have found any reason to believe those panels weren’t installed the way they were intended to,” he said.

His comment raised a question about the 66 county buildings that have already passed inspection in recent weeks. Walker was asked whether those inspections might also fail to turn up vulnerabilities, perhaps because the failings aren’t visible to the naked eye.

Walker said the current inspections are being conducted to a higher standard. In some cases, for example, inspectors refer back to the original architectural plans to make sure the structures were built according to specification. In other cases they physically remove certain pieces to make sure they were installed correctly, he said.

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