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Buffalo Crash Inquiry Looks At Crew Error

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:26 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Mass Transit, Flight 3407, Continental Airlines, Pilots Association, Wrongful Death

Could pilot error have brought down a Continental commuter flight?



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons / Continental Connection Bombardier Q400/ author: Rudi Riet 


National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators now have data from the “black boxes” onboard Flight 3407 that crashed in Buffalo Thursday night and are considering a second theory beside icing - that the flight crew may have overreacted.

The Continental Connection was traveling February 12, from Newark to Buffalo on auto-pilot. Using data from the flight recorder to create a computer animation of the flight’s final seconds, they theorize that the automatic system, a “stick-pusher,” pointed down of the nose to generate speed. 

At that point, the crew may have yanked back on the yoke and applied full power,  pointing the nose too high. The nose then plunged to a 31-degree angle, and the wings stopped generating lift at the low speed.  The plane slowed to an unsafe speed approaching the airport, causing an automatic stall warning.

With the nose pointed down, there was not enough time to recover and the airplane rolled and dropped 800 feet in less than five seconds crashing into a house, the Wall Street Journal reports.   49 people aboard were killed and one in the house.

The data shows the pilots tried to fight the controls on the way down and ran out of altitude in the final moments when they appeared to be making headway.

The WSJ reports that proper procedure to regain speed is to push forward to lower the plane’s nose. Pulling back sharply on the controls and holding it there locks the airplane into a deadly stall, according to investigators.  

Captain Marvin Renslow, 47, who lives near Tampa, Florida, had been flying the Dash 8 since December and had previous experience with a smaller turboprop, the Saab 340, according to the New York Times

While that aircraft is subject to tail plane icing, where the tail function suddenly ceases to hold the nose up, the Dash 8 is not reported to be susceptible to that problem.  

First Officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24, of Seattle, reportedly had 774 hours of experience piloting a 74-seat plane. Both died in the crash.

The Air Line pilots Association has not commented.

The NTSB warns against coming to any early conclusions about the cause of the crash as there still is more data to examine as well as radar and weather information.

The medical examiner’s office is on the scene, according to a video by Associated Press, to remove any human remains as more bad weather moves in. The next job is to try and identify the remains of the people onboard.

Icy conditions at the time of the flight have been considered to be the leading theory on the cause of the commuter plane crash.  The WSJ reports another Q400 landed in “moderate” conditions on the same night and same route less than one hour after the crash, without incident.    #

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