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Wednesday, 12 July 2017 22:57

DIY Repair in Florida Results in Fatal Airbag Explosion, “Alpha” Inflators are Most Dangerous Type

A Florida man was killed by an exploding Takata air bag inflator while doing a DIY repair in June last year.


Ramon V. Kuffo, 81, of Hialeah, Florida, was working inside a 2001 Honda Accord using a hammer when the air bag inflator ruptured on June 18, 2016. A medical examiner ruled his death accidental due to head trauma, according to a Hialeah police report.


According police, Kuffo was in the back yard of his home near Miami working on a silver 2001 Honda Accord, when a neighbor heard a loud bang. The neighbor went outside and found Kuffo sitting in the passenger seat of the car unconscious and bleeding from his face. Kuffo was taken to a trauma center, where he died the next day. Both air bags had inflated.


Honda released a statement on July 10, 2017, which read, in part:


“Honda has notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the rupture of a Takata driver’s airbag inflator in a 2001 Honda Accord on June 18, 2016 at a private residence in Hialeah, Florida. The rupture occurred while an individual, who was not the vehicle owner, was attempting to perform unknown repairs inside the vehicle using a hammer while the ignition switch was in the ‘on’ position. This triggered activation of the airbag inflator, which ruptured during deployment of the airbag. The individual died the next day from injuries sustained when the airbag deployed.


“It is difficult to determine whether the cause of death in this incident was the inflator rupture, or an interaction of the hammer with the deploying airbag. While the absolute cause of death may never be fully determined, Honda now considers this to be the 11th confirmed fatality in its vehicles related to Takata airbag inflator ruptures in the U.S.


“Honda has shared all of the available vehicle history information collected to date with NHTSA and will continue to cooperate with NHTSA throughout the process of the investigation.


“Since 2009, the vehicle in the Hialeah, Florida event has been included in multiple recalls as well as a safety campaign related to its original defective Takata ‘Alpha’ driver’s airbag inflator. Twelve mailed recall notices were sent over the course of nearly seven years to registered owners of this vehicle prior to the June 2016 incident. Our records indicate that the recall repair was never completed on this vehicle.


“Honda continues to encourage all owners of vehicles containing recalled Takata airbag inflators, especially the ‘Alpha’ inflators found in certain 2001–03 models, to immediately check for open recalls and, if replacement is required, make an appointment at an authorized dealer for a free repair. The 2001 Accord has one of the most dangerous types of Takata driver’s side air bag inflators. Laboratory tests show they have as high as a 50 percent chance of blowing apart in a crash."


The victim, who police said was not the car’s owner, was working on the interior of the car with a hammer and had taken apart the car’s center console, but it wasn’t clear what he was trying to fix. It’s also not clear why the air bag deployed, but police photos show the metal driver’s side inflator ruptured and shot out fragments, Honda said. The car’s ignition switch was on, so the air bag would have been ready in case of a crash, according to Honda. Martin noted that there is a deceleration sensor that activates the air bags mounted on the wall between the engine and passenger compartment.


Honda urged owners who have received recall notices to get repairs made as soon as possible, especially those with the Alpha inflators. Those models are the 2001 and 2002 Accord and Civic, the 2002 CR-V and Odyssey, the 2002 and 2003 Acura 3.2 TL, the 2003 Acura 3.2 CL and the 2003 Pilot. Honda says it has sufficient supplies of replacement inflators available to fix all of its recalled vehicles.


“It’s essential to safety that high-risk inflators are replaced immediately,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement.


Honda says its service procedures recommend disconnecting the battery when working on the air bag system. Owners can go online and subscribe to Honda service manuals and find out proper procedures for many repairs. It costs about $10 per day, Martin said.


Multiple owners of the car were mailed 12 recall notices over seven years. “Our records indicate that the recall repair was never completed on this vehicle,” Honda said in a statement.

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