(CBS/AP) New York state police say a 50-passenger commuter plane has crashed into a home in suburban Buffalo.
State Trooper John Manthey said the plane hit a house in Clarence around 10:10 p.m. Thursday.
Manthey said they didn't know whether there were any passengers on the plane, which burst into flames and was still burning late Thursday night.
Local television station WGRZ said the Federal Aviation Administration had confirmed that 48 people were onboard the flight.
Police said there was one person in the house which was also engulfed in flames. CBS News affiliate WIVB reported that all those inside the house had escaped.
The aircraft was identified by Erie County Executive Chris Collins as a Continental Airlines flight.
Collins said crew members had reported mechanical problems as they approached Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The flight originated in Newark, New Jersey, according to a witness speaking to WGRZ.
Several injured people were taken from the scene to Erie County Medical Center for treatment.
According to this article, 49 people are confimred to be dead.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Print ShareThisBUFFALO, N.Y. — BREAKING NEWS — New York state police say a 50-passenger Continental Airlines commuter plane has crashed into a home in suburban Buffalo.
The Buffalo News reports 49 were killed in the crash.
State Trooper John Manthey says the plane hit a house in Clarence around 10:10 p.m. Thursday. The house is engulfed in flames.
He says they don't know whether there were any passengers on the plane. They also don't know if there were any injuries in the home.
Manthey says the plane may have been headed to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. He says authorities have called the Federal Aviation Administration.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated less than 1 minute ago
BUFFALO, New York - New York state police said a 50-passenger commuter plane has crashed into a home in suburban Buffalo.
Fire officials said there were no survivors.
Authorities said Continental Airlines Flight 3407 was operated by Manassas, Va.-based Colgan Air. It was en route from Newark, N.J. to Buffalo. The FAA confirmed to NBC News producer Jay Blackman that there were 44 passengers and 4 crew members on board.
State Trooper John Manthey said the plane hit a house in Clarence around 10:10 p.m. EST Thursday. The house is engulfed in flames.
He says they don't know whether there were any passengers on the plane. They also don't know if there were any injuries in the home.
Manthey says the plane may have been headed to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. He says authorities have called the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The crew of a commuter plane that fell out of the sky, killing all 49 people aboard and one person on the ground, noticed significant ice buildup on the wings and windshield just before the plane began pitching and rolling violently, investigators said Friday.
Officials stopped short of saying the ice buildup caused Thursday night's crash and stressed that nothing has been ruled out. But ice on a plane's wings can interfere catastrophically with an aircraft's handling and has been blamed for a number of major air disasters over the years.
Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J., went down in light snow and fog late Thursday and crashed into a house in suburban Clarence. Killed were 44 passengers, four crew members, one off-duty pilot and one person on the ground.
Two others escaped from the home, which was engulfed in a dramatic fireball that raged higher than the treetops and burned for hours. Bodies still could not be recovered hours later.
The plane went through a "severe pitch and roll" experience after positioning its flaps for a landing, said Steve Chealander, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Doug Hartmayer, a spokesman for Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which runs the airport, said: "The plane simply dropped off the radar screen."
No mayday call came from the pilot before the crash, according to a recording of air traffic control's radio messages captured by the Web site LiveATC.net. Neither the controller nor the pilot showed concern that anything was out of the ordinary as the airplane was asked to fly at 2,300 feet.
Federal investigators recovered the black box recorders from the smoldering wreckage Friday and returned them to Washington. The 74-seat Q400 Bombardier aircraft, in the Dash 8 family of planes, was operated by Colgan Air, based in Manassas, Va. Colgan's parent company, Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tenn., said the plane was new and had a clean safety record.
The pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow, had been with the airline for nearly 3 1/2 years and had more than 3,000 hours of flying experience with the carrier. The associate pastor at Renslow's church north of Tampa said in a statement on behalf of Renslow's family that the pilot died doing what he loved.
"They're very proud of Marvin's accomplishments as a pilot. They know that he did everything that he could to save as many lives as he could, even in the accident. Marvin loved to fly," said Alan Burner of the First Baptist Church of Lutz.
Flight 3407 is the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner mistakenly took off from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was too short.
The crash came less than a month after a US Airways pilot guided his crippled plane to a landing in the Hudson River in New York City, saving the lives of all 155 people aboard. Birds had apparently disabled both its engines.
In general, smaller planes like the Dash 8, which uses a system of pneumatic de-icing boots, are more susceptible to icing problems than larger commuter planes that use a system to warm the wings. The boots, a rubber membrane stretched over the surface, are filled with compressed air to crack any ice that builds up.
A similar turboprop jet crash 15 years ago in Indiana was caused by icing, and after that the NTSB issued icing recommendations to more aggressively use the plane's system of pneumatic de-icing boots. But the FAA hasn't adopted it. It remains part of the NTSB's most-wanted safety improvements list.
Clarence is a growing eastern suburb of Buffalo, largely residential but interspersed with rural stretches. The crash site is on a street of older, single-family homes about 20 to 25 feet apart that back up to a wooded area. While residents of the neighborhood were used to planes rumbling overhead, witnesses said it sounded louder than usual, sputtered and made odd noises.
"It didn't sound normal," said David Luce, who was at home with his wife when they heard the plane come in low. he said. "We heard it for a few seconds, then it stopped, then a couple of seconds later was this tremendous explosion."
Dworak drove to the site, and "all we were seeing was 50- to 100-foot flames and a pile of rubble on the ground. It looked like the house just got destroyed the instant it got hit."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, Linda Franklin in Dallas, Daniel Yee in Atlanta, Ron Powers in Washington, and Cristian Salazar, Jennifer Peltz and the AP News Research Center in New York.
By ANDY PASZTOR
Cockpit instruments apparently indicated that onboard anti-icing systems were operating normally on a Continental Connection turboprop shortly before it stalled and crashed near Buffalo, N.Y. Thursday night from what now appears to be deadly accumulation of ice on some critical flight surfaces, according to federal investigators.
The latest information released by the National Transportation Safety Board raises questions about the operation and design of the mechanical de-icing systems, or so-called rubber boots, that inflate to shed ice off the leading edges of the wings and some tail surfaces on the widely-used Bombardier Q400 aircraft. Steve Chealander, the safety board member serving as spokesman for the roughly 150 investigators, law enforcement officials and others sifting through the wreckage, told reporters earlier Saturday that the plane had "very sophisticated de-icing systems" that the pilots turned on.
Based on information gleaned from the cockpit-voice recorder, according to Mr. Chealander, there was no discussion of any kind before the crash indicating that the systems was not working properly. "We hear no indication thus far" that lights in the cockpit alerted the crew to problems with anti-icing equipment, Mr. Chealander said. Once turned on, the anti-icing systems are designed to cycle automatically until the pilots turn them off.
The findings are important because investigators Saturday described a sequence of events further buttressing preliminary indications the twin-engine turboprop lost its ability to fly due to severe icing.
In his press conference, for example, Mr. Chealander said a "cursory visual look" at the engines indicated they were operating before the impact. Investigators have said that so far they have found no indications of engine or flight-control system malfunctions.
Mr. Chealander also revealed that the plane's cockpit-voice recorder and flight-data recorder indicate that stall warnings came on immediately before the crash, which would be consistent with ice build-up causing the plane to lose lift.
The latest details released by the safety board shot down earlier speculation that some kind of mechanical problem delayed the plane's takeoff from Newark, N.J. the board determined that takeoff was delayed due to high winds.
In a surprise from what investigators may have expected to find, analysis of the wreckage shows that the 74-seat turboprop didn't smash into a house at a steep angle. Mr, Chealander said "all four corners" of the plane were in their proper position, indicating that instead of hitting nose first the plane struck the ground at a relatively flat angle.
Write to Andy Pasztor at email@example.com
Continental Plane on Autopilot for Part of Descent, NTSB Says
Email | Print | A A A Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The Continental Connection plane that crashed three days ago was on autopilot for part of its approach to Buffalo’s Niagara International Airport, an investigator said.
The plane’s stall-protection equipment also activated, including a device that pushes the nose of the aircraft down to increase speed, according to National Transportation Safety Board Member Steve Chealander.
The NTSB hasn’t determined whether flying on autopilot during the approach was a violation of any aviation rules, spokesman Keith Holloway in an e-mail today. All 49 people aboard Flight 3407 were killed, as well as one person on the ground.
The stall-protection measures that activated were the so- called stick shaker and stick pusher, Chealander said. The stick shaker vibrates the yoke of the airplane to alert the pilot the craft is about to stall. The pusher takes control of the aircraft and points its nose down to increase speed to avoid a stall that could cause a crash, he said.
The pusher tells the pilot, “You can’t keep up this angle of attack or we’re going to stall, so I am going to take control,” Chealander said.
Chealander said there is evidence the crew was trying to bring the engines to full power, another indication they were fighting a stall.
The Bombardier Inc. Dash 8 Q400, operated under contract by Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s Colgan Air unit for Continental Airlines Inc., went down around 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) northeast of the airport at about 10 p.m. local time on Feb. 12. The flight originated in Newark, New Jersey.
Last Updated: February 15, 2009 16:47 EST
NTSB: Flight rocked nearly upside down
By Alan Levin, USA TODAY
The Continental Connection plane that crashed Thursday near Buffalo gyrated wildly out of control in the seconds before it fell to the ground and burst into flames, federal accident investigators said Sunday.
Flight 3407's nose whipped upward as if the plane was on a roller coaster, then shot down toward the ground, said National Transportation Safety Board member Steven Chealander. Its wings were rocking so violently that the plane was nearly upside down for a moment, Chealander said.
As it bucked in the sky, it was also plummeting. The plane fell from 1,800 feet to 1,000 feet in five seconds, according to radar data released by Chealander.
All 49 people aboard the flight from Newark to Buffalo and a man on the ground died in the impact and intense fire.
The harrowing new details released Sunday did little to explain why what had been a routine flight into Buffalo Niagara International Airport suddenly went out of control.
Among the possibilities is that ice had formed on the wings, which can degrade a plane's ability to stay aloft. The pilots had commented earlier in the flight that "significant" ice was forming on the windshield and wings, according to conversations revealed by the crash-proof cockpit recorder.
But the plane's sophisticated anti-icing system had been in operation since 11 minutes after the plane left Newark, Chealander said. Preliminary information indicates that the plane had not encountered "severe" icing, he said.
The plane's autopilot was steering until it automatically switched off when a system on the plane began warning the pilots that they were flying too slow.
The manufacturer of the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 advises operators not to use the autopilot in icing conditions, but switching off the autopilot is not required unless icing conditions are severe. That did not appear to be the case, Chealander said.
Colgan Air, a regional carrier that operated the flight under contract with Continental, trains its pilots in how to deal with winter weather every year, Chealander said.
By Sunday, authorities had recovered the remains of 15 people from the wreckage as crews raced to finish their work before a storm arrives later in the week.
Erie County Executive Chris Collins said recovery efforts intensified after the arrival of additional federal workers. A storm forecast for Wednesday added to the urgency.
The storm could hamper recovery efforts, but "the investigation will continue, snow, rain or shine," said David Bissonette, the town's emergency coordinator.
Recovery crews could need as much as four days to remove the remains from the site. Chealander described the efforts as an "excavation."
"Keep in mind, there's an airplane that fell on top of a house, and they're now intermingled," he said.
DNA and dental records will be used to identify the remains, he said.
Once all the remains are recovered, the focus will turn to removing wreckage of the 74-seat aircraft from the neighborhood.
Contributing: Associated Press
In Buffalo, a reminder of lingering air safety issues
By Alan Levin, USA TODAY
Before Thursday, airlines had made more than 25 million flights in the United States during the past 2½ years without a passenger being killed.
There were close calls recently: a jet running off a runway in Denver and catching fire as all 115 aboard escaped in December; the miraculous, fatality-free landing in New York's Hudson River last month by a jet that had lost power in both of its engines.
So how safe are we? Thursday's crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 into a house in suburban Buffalo killed 50 people, ended the longest period in U.S. aviation history without a major crash — and was a vivid reminder that although air safety has improved dramatically in the past several years, some long-recognized risks remain.
Investigators said Sunday that they have not zeroed in on what suddenly brought down Flight 3407 as it approached Buffalo. But they are examining how ice on the wings of the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 might have affected the pilots' ability to control it, as well as the actions of the pilots.
The investigators said the turboprop, which was carrying 49 people, gyrated wildly in the seconds before it hit a house and burst into flames, killing resident Doug Wielenski, 61. As pilots had prepared for landing at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the plane's nose suddenly rocked up and down as if it was a roller coaster, said National Transportation Safety Board member Steven Chealander. The plane banked sharply left, then even more steeply to the right, nearly turning upside down.
The plane plunged rapidly, falling from 1,800 feet to 1,000 feet in five seconds, before it crashed on its belly into Wielenski's house in Clarence Center, N.Y. It was traveling about 115 mph just before it crashed, Chealander said.
The shock over the crash continues to resonate in the Buffalo area, where there were memorial services Sunday in the victims' honor.
For American travelers, it was the latest in a series of incidents to cast a spotlight on aviation safety at a time when aviation experts, the U.S. government and crash data indicated that improved technology and training have virtually wiped out entire classes of accidents — mid-air collisions and wind shear-related crashes, for example.
The crash near Buffalo — as well as the incidents in Denver and New York, in which passengers were fortunate to escape — all appear to fall into areas that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and safety advocates have identified as risks that need more attention:
• Ice that forms on wings or other areas can cause a plane to suddenly lose control, particularly on smaller turboprops such as the Continental Connection plane.
Despite several fatal crashes and years of research, pilots often don't know how to prevent icing, and aviation regulators have not acted on possible improvements that have been suggested by investigators.
• Flocks of birds can instantly snuff out jet engines, as occurred in the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing of the US Airways jet last month. Crash investigators are trying to determine whether the risks from birds are increasing and whether protections against them — which include rules for designing bird-resistant engines — are adequate.
• Perhaps the most dangerous place for a plane is on a runway. Large jets come close to colliding on runways several times each year. The decision by two Comair pilots to take off on the wrong runway triggered the nation's previous fatal crash in Lexington, Ky., in 2006, an incident in which 49 of the 50 people aboard were killed. Thirty-two people were injured when the Continental jet skidded off the runway in Denver runway on Dec. 20.
Bernard Loeb, who retired from the NTSB after overseeing aviation investigations for most of the 1990s, fought for stiffer icing rules after several major accidents.
The NTSB's recommendations during that period were met with fierce opposition by regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who argued that planes were adequately protected against icing.
Many of those recommendations, which have no legal authority, still have not been accomplished by federal aviation regulators.
Thursday's accident "leaves me with a sick feeling, but it doesn't surprise me," Loeb said.
Tension over de-icing rules
As Flight 3407 approached Buffalo late Thursday, the pilots faced routine weather for planes operating in the northern climes: light precipitation and temperatures around freezing.
Such conditions often cause ice to form on an aircraft, just as freezing rain or snow can cause a buildup on cars. Unlike vehicles on the ground, however, such ice can prove deadly if it gets on wings or other critical surfaces. If airflow over a wing is disrupted by the ice, it can cause a sudden loss of lift and throw a plane out of control in an instant.
Capt. Marvin Renslow and copilot Rebecca Shaw had commented to each other that "significant" ice was building up on the plane's windshield and wings, according to preliminary information from the plane's crash-proof cockpit recorder. They had activated the plane's de-icing system, which inflates rubber boots that periodically expand and break off ice on the wings, tail and engine air intakes, the NTSB's Chealander said. (On jets, de-icing systems typically blast the wings and other surfaces with hot air.)
The pilots' awareness of icing conditions and the equipment on the plane should have protected them, but in several accident investigations in the 1990s, the NTSB found that the icing prevention rules are not always adequate.
After an American Eagle ATR-72 turboprop crashed because of ice in Roselawn, Ind., on Oct. 31, 1994, the NTSB discovered the plane had not been tested in all icing conditions, even though it had been certified as safe to fly in such weather. The crash killed 68 people.
The NTSB, which has no power to regulate and can only issue recommended safety improvements, voted in 1996 to urge the FAA to toughen the icing certification rules for aircraft. After icing caused a Comair EMB-120 turboprop to crash on Jan. 9, 1997, in Monroe, Mich., killing 29 people, the safety board reissued the recommendations.
In response, the FAA mandated that newly designed aircraft receive improved testing in icing conditions. But the agency has not required that existing models receive the new testing.
"The pace of the FAA's activities in response to all of these recommendations remains unacceptably slow," the NTSB said in a release last fall. "Before another accident or serious incident occurs, the FAA should evaluate all existing turbo propeller-driven airplanes in service."
Several other icing-related recommendations by the NTSB have not been acted on by the FAA.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown defended the agency, saying it had issued more than 100 emergency directives on icing since 1994 and is planning to add tougher guidelines soon.
The threat from birds
The threat that birds pose to aircraft has received relatively little attention because birds haven't triggered an airline fatality since 1960. But the Jan. 15 episode in New York has drawn attention to the issue.
And the US Airways jet's dramatic splashdown in the Hudson wasn't the only near-tragedy caused by birds in recent months. A Ryanair 737-800 crashed at Rome's Ciampino Airport on Nov. 10 after it struck a massive flock of starlings and lost most of its engine power, according to the ANSV, the Italian accident investigation agency, and the airline.
Planes are supposed to be designed with enough backups and protections so that they never lose power. For it to happen twice in such a short time has rattled the small community of aviation experts who study risks from birds, said Paul Eschenfelder, an airline pilot who has worked with Bird Strike Committee USA, which tries to raise awareness about the issue.
Recommendations by the NTSB after a cargo jet was heavily damaged by birds in 1999 have not been acted on by the FAA.
Eschenfelder, who teaches wildlife control at airports, said that more needs to be done. "But we have not had the commitment from government and industry," Eschenfelder said.
Dangers on runways
The last major crash in the United States, the 2006 incident at Kentucky's Bluegrass Airport, occurred when the pilots tried to take off on a closed runway that was too short. The Bombardier CRJ-100 clipped a row of trees and burst into flames on Aug. 27, 2006.
That accident — and the fiery crash at the Denver airport in December — highlight the risks to planes on the ground.
In recent years, the FAA has logged 20-30 incidents a year in which planes almost collided on runways. Most of those involved private planes, but several serious near-collisions have occurred between airliners. The NTSB lists runway safety as one of its "most wanted" safety improvements.
The FAA has been accused of not taking runway safety seriously enough.
A Government Accountability Office study in 2007 found that the aviation agency had left its runway safety chief position unfilled for two years.
Since that report, the FAA has pushed airlines to adopt new pilot procedures to reduce risks and the creation of better warning systems for pilots. But the technology that will be used in the warning system will not be required until 2020.
By J. LYNN LUNSFORD and ANDY PASZTOR
Investigators examining last week's Continental Connection plane crash have gathered evidence that pilot commands -- not a buildup of ice on the wings and tail -- likely initiated the fatal dive of the twin-engine Bombardier Q400 into a neighborhood six miles short of the Buffalo, N.Y., airport, according to people familiar with the situation.
The commuter plane slowed to an unsafe speed as it approached the airport, causing an automatic stall warning, these people said. The pilot pulled back sharply on the plane's controls and added power instead of following the proper procedure of pushing forward to lower the plane's nose to regain speed, they said. He held the controls there, locking the airplane into a deadly stall, they added.
The crash on Feb. 12 at about 10:20 p.m. EST killed all 49 aboard and one person on the ground.
The investigation is still at an early stage, and National Transportation Safety Board officials have warned about ruling out potential causes or prematurely jumping to conclusions. But in the past few days, government and industry crash experts have gained a better understanding of the sequence of events as they have compared information from the plane's flight recorders with radar and weather data.
Mark Rosenker, the NTSB's acting chairman, said Tuesday that investigators still have "lots of data that needs to be examined," and "still more evidence that needs to be collected," before announcing firm conclusions.
The Q400 was operated by Colgan Air Inc., an unit of Pinnacle Airlines Inc., which was operating the flight on behalf of Continental Airlines Inc. Joe Williams, a spokesman for Pinnacle, declined to comment about details of the accident while the safety board was investigating. A spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents the pilots, declined to comment.
Investigators initially focused their attention on potential ice buildup on the plane's wings -- a perpetual hazard of aviation. People familiar with the investigation cautioned that they still aren't sure whether icing may have played a contributing role in the crash because it was on the minds of the pilots, but they noted that another Q400 flew through "moderate" icing conditions on the same route from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo the same night, landing without incident less than an hour after the crash.
A Bombardier spokesman said Tuesday that the company is "not aware of any serious icing incident on this aircraft" since it was introduced into service in February 2000.
According to people familiar with the investigation, Capt. Marvin Renslow, 47 years old, who lived outside Tampa, Fla., was at the controls of Flight 3407. The safety board said Mr. Renslow was relatively new to the Q400, which he began flying only in December, when he upgraded from another type of airplane. First Officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24, of Seattle, had accumulated 774 hours in the 74-seat aircraft.
The recovered flight data described in detail how the crew of Continental Flight 3407 handled the emergency, the people said.
During the flight from Newark, Mr. Renslow and Ms. Shaw noticed ice building up on the windshield and wings of the airplane after they had already activated the craft's de-icing system, which inflates a series of rubber bladders on the leading edge of the wings and tail surfaces to break up accumulated ice.
According to the plane's flight recorders, Flight 3407's descent into Buffalo was routine until roughly a minute before impact, when the crew lowered the landing gear, followed by the command to extend the wing flaps, which enable the plane to fly at slower speeds.
Almost immediately, these people say, the plane's air speed slowed rapidly, causing a stall-warning device known as a "stick-shaker" to cause the pilots' control column to vibrate. This was followed by a "stick-pusher," which automatically forces the stick forward.
At this point, the captain appears to have pulled back with enough force to overpower the stick-pusher and shoved the throttles to full power, according to people familiar with the matter. Safety board officials said the nose pitched up to a 31-degree angle. Already at a dangerously low speed, the wings immediately stopped generating lift. The plane whipped to the left and then entered a steep right turn, losing 800 feet of altitude in less than five seconds. At one point the right wing was perpendicular to the ground, according to information taken from the flight data recorder.
The pilots continued to fight with the controls almost all the way to the ground, and in the final moments, "it appeared that they were beginning to make headway when they ran out of altitude," said one person who looked at the data.
A crash with many similarities occurred five years ago involving a regional jet operated by Pinnacle. Following that crash, which killed the two pilots outside Jefferson City, Mo., the safety board urged Pinnacle and other commuter operations to revamp training procedures, including how to recover from certain types of stalls. Investigators are seeking more information from Pinnacle about how it changed its procedures in the wake of the previous crash, as well as specific details about the training provided for the pilots on Flight 3407.
Pinnacle's Mr. Williams said that following the previous crash, "we continually evaluated our procedures in accordance with our commitment to safety."
—Paulo Prada contributed to this article.
Write to J. Lynn Lunsford at firstname.lastname@example.org and Andy Pasztor at email@example.com
Updated: 05/11/09 08:42 AM
Flight 3407 pilot failed three FAA proficiency tests
By Jerry Zremski
WASHINGTON — The pilot of Continental Connection Flight 3407 flunked several flight tests early in his career, the Wall Street Journal reported today, and was never taught to respond to the stall warning that sounded just seconds before the plane crashed on Feb. 12, killing 50.
Before Capt. Marvin Renslow joined Colgan, he failed three aviation proficiency checks administered by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Colgan's spokesman said the company believes Renslow did not disclose those failed tests when he applied for a job. Renslow had started his new career as a pilot about four years earlier.
Renslow also failed in his first attempt to qualify as a co-pilot on the Beech 1900 aircraft, and also had to try twice on tests to upgrade to captain on the Saab 340 turboprop, the Journal reported.
After Flight 3407's stall warning system activated, Renslow pushed up on the plane's yoke — which is just the opposite of what he should have done, several aviation sources have said.
Three days of National Transportation Safety Board hearings starting Tuesday are expected to focus on why Renslow did that. And sources close to the investigation said the hearings are likely to point fingers not just at Renslow's abilities as a pilot, but also Colgan's training program.
The plane that crashed, the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, includes an unusual feature that increases the speed at which the plane's stall warning system will activate when flying in icing conditions.
Colgan never provided pilots with any instruction in that unusual feature until the autumn before the crash, sources said.
In addition, Colgan's training program does not include simulator training into how pilots should react when the stall warning system activates, sources said.
Fatigue also may have played a role in the crash.
Sources told The Buffalo News that Renslow had been working an overnight shift only weeks before switching to the evening schedule that he was on the night the plane crashed.
As for the copilot, Rebecca Lynn Shaw, the Feb. 12 flight came the evening after she had flown a red-eye flight to Newark from her home in Seattle, sources told The Buffalo News. Shaw had been with Colgan a little over a year.
The top two training officials at Colgan Air resigned in recent weeks.
Those officials, Darrell Mitchell and Ed Yarid, left the airline voluntarily, and their departures were unrelated to the crash, said Joe Williams, a spokesman for Colgan's parent, Pinnacle Airlines.
Mitchell is scheduled to testify at the safety board hearings.
Airline industry changes raise safety issues
By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press Writer Joan Lowy, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Revelations this week about pilot pay and working conditions at the regional airline involved in an air crash that killed 50 in upstate New York have raised broader concerns that long-term structural changes in the aviation industry may be undermining safety.
Members of Congress said they were stunned to learn how little the pilots of Continental Connection Flight 3407 were paid, that they may have tried to snatch sleep in an airport crew lounge against company policy, and that the first officer was living with her parents near Seattle and commuting cross country to work in New Jersey.
"All these things raise questions: Are they an aberration, or are FAA standards sufficient? Or are the standards not enforced?" said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate's aviation subcommittee. House and Senate hearings are planned.
Aviation industry experts said conditions at regional carriers reflect a broad restructuring of the industry that took place post-Sept. 11, 2001, when air travel dropped sharply. It took the industry years to recover and triggered a wave of major airline bankruptcies, mergers, and management demands for dramatic wage and benefit concessions.
The role of regional airlines has also been transformed. Once considered industry runts alongside the powerful and glamorous major carriers, they are now joined at the hip with their big brothers so that passengers who buy a ticket on a major airline often find themselves on a regional carrier for some leg of a domestic trip. The transition is so seamless that passengers often don't even realized they're traveling on two airlines, rather than one.
Regional carriers account for half of all domestic departures and about a quarter of the passengers. They are also the only scheduled service to about 440 communities.
Witnesses at National Transportation Safety Board hearings this week said it's possible that many passengers flying on Flight 3407 the night of Feb. 12 didn't know the plane and its flight crew belonged not to Continental, but to Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va.
The twin-engine turboprop experienced an aerodynamic stall as it neared Buffalo Niagara International Airport, plunging into a house below in a fiery crash. All 49 people aboard and a man in the house were killed. Testimony and documents indicate Captain Marvin Renslow and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw made a series a critical errors.
NTSB investigators calculated Shaw was paid just over $16,000. Colgan officials testified that captains like Renslow earn about $55,000 a year. The company later said Shaw's salary was $23,900 and that captains earn about $67,000.
While pilot pay is usually based on the size of the aircraft, the workload and flight schedules at regional airlines are often more demanding than at a major airline, where the planes are larger, said Scott Johns, a former Northwest Airlines pilot and air crash investigator.
"Regional airline pilots do the bulk of the hard work of the airlines, feeding passengers to the more traditional routes, like the nonstops between Los Angeles and Boston or the overseas routes," Johns said. "I'm not sure how you fix this pay system discrepancy."
Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, said lower salaries are an industrywide problem. He predicted airlines generally will suffer a shortage of pilots once the economy improves. He denied, however, that safety has been affected.
"Compensation has nothing to do with safety," Cohen said. "We're going to defend the quality of our people."
William Swelbar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's airline data project noted that until the Buffalo crash, major and regional U.S. air carriers hadn't experienced a fatal crash in more than two years.
The vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Paul Rice, said salaries vary between companies, but major airline captains typically earn about $120,000 to $125,000. He said senior captains who fly internationally can earn about $180,000.
US Airways Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who was widely credited with averting a catastrophe on Jan. 15 after a collision with a flock of Canada geese knocked out thrust in both of Flight 1549's engines, told a House panel in February that airlines today are less able to attract "the best and the brightest." He said his pay had been cut 40 percent.
Jeffrey Skiles, Flight 1549's first officer, said some US Airways affiliates hire pilots with as few as 300 hours flying time.
"When I was hired, it required 3,000 hours even to be consider for an interview," Skiles, a 30-year veteran, testified.
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