Investigators Look at Pilot's Actions in Buffalo Plane CrashFeb 18, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Investigators probing the crash of Continental Airlines Flight 3407 in Buffalo, New York are taking a closer look at the pilot’s final activities. Fifty people—49 passengers and crew members and one resident on the ground—perished in the flight that went down into a house in Clarence Center in New York.
WKBW said that investigators are now looking at the possibility that the pilot’s final actions might have contributed to the accident and noted that he might have made an attempt to change the plane’s speed following activation of the automatic safety system. The change, which added power to the plane to keep it from stalling, could have been a contributing factor in the tragedy, said WKBW, which added that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said no final determination has been made, but is looking at the possibility that the pilot overreacted, said the Associated Press (AP).
Meanwhile, the AP reported that investigators have completed their work collecting human remains and are now looking at the weather, scene data, and black box information as wells as looking at the crew and working through information received from other pilots who flew near the area on the night of the crash. The automatic safety system turned on when it sensed that the plane slowed dangerously, said NTSB’s chief investigator, Lorenda Ward. It seems that the pilot then pulled back on the controls when the system was pushing the nose down in its attempt to pick up speed.
It was possible, said Ward, that the pilot pushed too hard, bringing the plane’s nose too high, said the AP; however, another NTSB spokesman, Keith Holloway, noted that it has not come to any final determination saying, “We have not concluded anything.” Investigators are working to determine if the pilot could have done anything differently, said the AP.
The NTSB has yet to find engine failure or mechanical problems to blame in the crash. What is certain, reported the AP, is that the pilot did not disengage autopilot even after “significant ice” was noted, which was in opposition to what the NTSB and the pilot’s airline suggested. According to a Newsday report yesterday, investigators said that not only does the evidence point to wing icing as playing a critical role in the crash, but that another pilot flying nearby on the same night also reported dangerous icing conditions.
The crash has been surrounded in controversy because the plane was on autopilot as it descended. When it comes to icing conditions and flying on autopilot, the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are in disagreement, pointed out Newsday. The NTSB tells pilots to fly manually—not on autopilot—in all ice conditions, even those in which just "thin amounts of ice" are present, while the FAA maintains that aircraft are safe when flying on autopilot in "light to moderate icing," said Newsday. A change to this FAA icing certification standard is top NTSB issue, landing on its "most wanted" safety recommendations list, said Newsday.
The conflicting recommendations have caused considerable debate on planes flying on autopilot in icy conditions, said the Christian Science Monitor, which explained that some experts feeling that autopilot prevents pilots from understanding the severity of icing conditions.