26 March 2009

NTSB investigation of Fight 3407 crash focuses on flight crew training, performance; public hearings slated for May in DC

The National Transportation and Safety Board reported yesterday that its continuing investigation of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 outside Buffalo found that while there was "some" icing , it did not affect the plane's performance, and that flight data recorder analysis seemed to indicate that the pilot's actions after a stall warning set the plane on its fatal course.

The board also announced that it had voted to hold a public hearing May 12-14 at the NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC. “The tragedy of flight 3407 is the deadliest transportation accident in the United States in more than 7 years,” said Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “The circumstances of the crash have raised several issues that go well beyond the widely discussed matter of airframe icing, and we will explore these issues in our investigative fact-finding hearing.” The other issues, according to the NTSB statement, include "cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training."

According to the preliminary NTSB analysis, the aircraft's de-icing system was probably active, and a stall warning and protection system activated when the plane's speed and angle of attack indicated a stall may be imminent. (A stall is when a plane loses lift because its nose is too high and speed too low. The way to prevent a stall is to drop the nose and increase speed.) After the stall warning, the flight data shows that the pilot pulled back on the controls, raising the plane's nose -- the opposite of the proper reaction. The plane then stalled, rolled and crashed in Clarence Center, NY, killing all on board and one on the ground.

An Associate Press article called the hearing "unusual," because only two such hearings have been held in the past 12 years: "a 2002 hearing into the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in a New York City residential neighborhood just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and a 1997 hearing on TWA Flight 800, which broke apart off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., after a fuel tank explosion, killing all 230 people aboard."

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