Buffalo Crash Likely Caused by Pilot Error, Insufficient TrainingMay 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
There has been much ongoing speculation as to what caused the fatal Continental Flight 3407 crash that killed all 49 crew and passengers and one resident on the ground in Buffalo on February 12. Now, media outlets are pointing to grave pilot error and a background rife with incompetence, including insufficient training. The plane involved was a Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 turboprop, operated by Colgan Air.
CBS News reported that Colgan Air confirmed that captain Marvin Renslow, 47, had five unsatisfactory test flights—known as “check rides”—with two taking place during his three years at Colgan; he had a mere two months experience on the Q400 turboprop; and he never received hands-on stall warning system training in simulation. The stall warning system is critical as it was inappropriate handling of the stick shaker activation—which alerts pilots that a stall is going to occur—that is believed to have caused the fatal crash, said CBS News.
The stick pushes forward in such situations to dive the plane and pick up speed, but Renslow pulled up, which is the reverse of what pilots are taught, noted CBS, and which worsened the stall. Of note, Colgan argued that its training curriculum was reviewed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), reported CBS.
It has long been speculated that the plane likely dropped to an unsafe slow speed, losing critical lift in its final landing approach. The onboard stall-warning system both alerted the pilot and automatically activated the “stick pusher,” a device in which the control column is pushed forward to angle the plane’s nose down to regain speed. It was at this moment that pilot error might have occurred and when the pilot acted against established protocols, which call for pushing forward and lowering the nose to escape a stall. Instead, Renslow pulled back on the controls and added power, moves that resulted in the flight’s fatal end. By attempting to raise the nose and maintaining controls, the pilot likely slowed the plane to a dangerous level in which an aerodynamic stall would have been guaranteed.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the crash is also creating some controversy on how cockpit voice recordings are used: Colgan is looking to the recordings for future safety and discipline, while the Colgan pilot union is opposed. Transcripts of the fatal flight’s cockpit conversations are scheduled to be released today, noted the Journal, which added that those who reviewed the transcripts revealed that the “crew engaged in a prolonged chit-chat as the plane descended from cruise altitude and then prepared to land,” a violation of “basic aviation rules,” in which conversations about nonflight issues during certain flight phases is prohibited.
For instances, said the Journal, under the "sterile cockpit rule," pilots on commercial flights are banned from “extraneous conversations, especially when flying under 10,000 feet. The New York Daily News reports that, according to federal officials, “their own idle” cockpit “chatter” likely distracted the pilot and co-pilot.
To compound matters, according to the Associated Press, co-pilot Rebecca Shaw’s, 24, health and state of mind on the day of the flight are in question. It seems that although she might have been too tired to fly, she did not alert Colgan of her exhaustion; was a passenger on a red eye the night before; and was sick with a cold and congestion.