Little Bits of History

Avoiding a Stall Unsuccessfully

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 12, 2014
Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash site

Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash site

February 12, 2009: Colgan Air Flight 3407 ends in a fiery crash. The flight was part of a Continental Connection under a codeshare agreement with the larger airline. The plane in use was a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 flying from Newark, New Jersey to Buffalo, New York. There were 45 passengers on the plane served by four crew members. This remains the most recent fatal crash in the US involving American-based commercial airlines. The accident was thoroughly investigated and the cause was said to be pilot error exacerbated by pilot fatigue.

It was a cold day and the flight was delayed, leaving New Jersey at 9:18 PM. On this winter Thursday, there were a total of seven Continental flights heading to Buffalo out of the 110 incoming flights. The plane had 110 seats and was a two-engine turboprop. This was the first Q400 event resulting in fatalities and was also the first Colgan flight with passenger fatalities since the company was founded in 1991. Captain Marvin Renslow, 47, had flown over 3,000 hours with 110 of them on a Q400. First Officer Rebecca Shaw, 24, had flown over 2,000 hours with 772 of them “time in type” meaning on this sort of plane. One of the passengers that night was a second Captain who was off-duty and flying to Buffalo.

The plane was approaching the Buffalo airport and cleared for runway 23 when it disappeared from radar. The weather was light snow and fog with a wind at 17 mph. The de-icing system had been turned on 11 minutes into the flight but the crew had discussed some ice buildup on the wings. Two other aircraft that night had also complained of this. The last radio transmission came when the plane was 3.0 miles northeast of the radio beacon called KLUMP. The flight ended in a fiery crash 41 seconds later as it crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York killing one of the occupants. The housing development had many houses close together and the plane crashed directly into the home of Douglas and Karen Wielinski, killing Douglas. The death toll was 50 people. Fire fighters in the area were able to keep the blaze from spreading to other houses.

Investigation showed the plane going into a stall. There are several different safety measures to avert this and all were successfully ignored by either an ill-trained or tired pilot. The pilot and co-pilot had been at the airport overnight and all day prior to the 9:18 PM departure. Training in stall avoidance stressed loss of altitude as criteria for failing (this has been rectified). Both of these played a part in the crash. The plane’s stall-protection system had activated, but the pilot disregarded them. To avoid a stall, the wings need an angle to support lift and therefore the plane should be forced down, resulting in loss of altitude, but gaining speed. Instead, as the stick shook and vibrated (physical indicators for the pilot) he tried to pull back and raise the plane to gain altitude. This caused the plane to pitch and roll, losing even more speed until it went into a complete stall and crashed.

How strange is this combination of proximity and separation.  That ground – seconds away – thousands of miles away. – Charles A. Lindbergh

There are only two emotions in a plane:  boredom and terror. – Orson Welles

More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination. – Wilbur Wright

Lovers of air travel find it exhilarating to hang poised between the illusion of immortality and the fact of death. – Alexander Chase

Also on this day: Nine Days of Rule – In 1554, Lady Jane Grey was executed.
NAACP – In 1909, the NAACP was formed.
Going Metric – In 1973, the first metric road sign in the US was erected.
Honor – In 1914, groundbreaking for the Lincoln Memorial took place.

2 Responses

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  1. Sherry said, on February 13, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Hold on now! There was more to this accident that just simple fatigue. The CVR also demonstated that the senior pilot was obviously trying to impress his female junior pilot by bantering (maybe even flirting) with her throughout the flight. Extraneous communication in the cockpit is expressly forbidden as it can – and tragically did, in this case – distract pilots from their instruments. It wasn’t the first time fatigue and inattention have brought a plane down, nor will it be the last. The industry has changed many time off and rest requirements, including, I believe, the pay structure and proximity in which the pilot must live to his or her home airport. If I remember correctly, the junior pilot lived many hundreds of miles from the where this doomed flight originated. She was terribly tired due to previous assignments and the fact that she had to travel so far just to pilot the flight. Junior commercial pilots make very little money and need lots of flight hours to move up the ladder. Again, if I remember, the junior pilot couldn’t even afford to live in the area from which she most often worked!

    • patriciahysell said, on February 13, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      I did know there was unnecessary chatter in the cockpit but didn’t really have enough room for all the details. I didn’t know much of the other stuff.

      I know that commercial pilots are regulated and there is a difference between cargo and people transportation. Thanks for including more details.

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