Manassas Firm Scrutinized in Crash Near Buffalo
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The federal inquiry into February's deadly Buffalo commuter plane crash is looking closely at pilot performance, with investigators delving more deeply into the training and oversight provided by Manassas-based Colgan Air, which operated the flight for Continental Airlines.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will conduct three days of hearings, starting May 12. The Feb. 12 crash killed 49 people on board Continental Connection Flight 3407 and one person on the ground.
"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," acting NTSB chairman Mark V. Rosenker said in a statement.
The board said its preliminary findings showed that icing had a minimal impact on the plane's performance. Safety issues related to ice accumulation have been a key focus for the agency for several years. In the early days of the accident investigation, one former NTSB official had called for a temporary grounding of the type of plane involved in the crash -- the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 -- due to icing concerns.
In an update on the investigation, the board said investigators from its operations and human performance group continue to review documentation associated with the crew's flight training history and professional development while at Colgan as well as their experience prior to joining the company.
Additionally, William R. Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, said NTSB investigators appear to be evaluating the crew's response to the plane's automated stall warning and protection system, which includes a feature that shakes the pilot control wheel as an alert to an impending stall.
"They are indicating that there was a significant pullback of the controls to raise the nose -- which is opposite what you would have expected when the stick shaker occurred," Voss said. "They are looking very closely at human-factors issues to help understand why that may have happened."