Colgan Air Flight 3407
A Dash-8 Q400 similar to the aircraft involved.
|Date||February 12, 2009|
|Summary||Aircraft stalled due to pilot error|
|Site||Clarence Center, New York, USA|
|Injuries||4 (all on the ground)|
|Fatalities||50 (1 on ground)|
|Aircraft type||Bombardier DHC8-402 Q400|
|Operator||Colgan Air (as Continental Connection)|
|Flight origin||Newark Liberty International Airport|
|Destination||Buffalo Niagara International Airport|
Colgan Air Flight 3407, marketed as Continental Connection under a codeshare agreement with Continental Airlines, was a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, registration number N200WQ, on a scheduled regional airline flight from Newark, New Jersey to Buffalo, New York. On February 12, 2009, at 10:17 p.m. EST the plane crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York after experiencing an aerodynamic stall. All 49 people on board were killed, along with one person in the house.
The accident, which triggered a wave of inquiries over the operations of regional airlines in the United States, was the first fatal accident of a U.S. commercial airliner since the August 2006 crash of Comair Flight 191, and remains the most recent as of May 2013. Families of the accident's victims lobbied the U.S. Congress to enact more stringent regulations over regional carriers, and apply greater scrutiny to safe operating procedures and the working conditions of pilots.
The accident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), with a final report issued on February 2, 2010. The NTSB determined that the accident was caused by the pilots' inability to respond properly to the stall warnings.
Flight details 
Colgan Air Flight 3407 (9L/CJC 3407) was marketed as Continental Connection Flight 3407. The flight made a delayed departure at 9:20 p.m. EST, en route from Newark Liberty International Airport to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The flight was one of seven Continental flights bound for Buffalo Niagara that day, out of a total of 110 incoming and departing flights across all carriers at Buffalo.
The aircraft was a 74-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, registered N200WQ. The two-engine turboprop was owned and operated by Colgan Air. N200WQ was registered with the Federal Aviation Administration in April 2008 and entered service later that month.
The Q400 model has been involved in 13 incidents, but the crash of Flight 3407 was the first resulting in fatalities. This crash was also the first fatality on a Colgan Air passenger flight since the company was founded in 1991; there was a previous fatal accident (not involving passengers) in August 2003 when a repositioning flight crashed offshore of Massachusetts, killing both crew members. The only prior aviation incident on a Colgan Air passenger flight occurred at LaGuardia Airport, when another plane collided with the Colgan aircraft while taxiing, resulting in minor injuries to a flight attendant.
The crew of four was led by Captain Marvin Renslow, age 47, of Lutz, Florida, who was hired by Colgan in 2005 and had flown 3,263 hours. 110 of these hours were on the Dash-8 Q400 (all 110 as captain). He became a pilot in command in 2007. First Officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw, age 24, of Maple Valley, Washington, was hired by Colgan in January 2008, and had flown 2,200 hours, 772 of them in the Q400 (colloquially stated in aviation as "time in type"). Flight Attendants Matilda Quintero and Donna Prisco both joined Colgan in May 2008. Captain Joseph Zuffoletto, an off-duty crew member aboard Flight 3407, was hired by Colgan in September 2005.
The aircraft had been cleared for the ILS runway 23 approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport when it disappeared from radar. Weather conditions were a wintry mix in the area, with light snow, fog, and winds at 17 miles per hour (15 knots). The de-icing system was turned on 11 minutes into the flight by the crew, who discussed significant ice buildup on the aircraft's wings and windscreen shortly before the crash. Two other aircraft reported icing conditions around the time of the crash. The last radio transmission from the flight occurred when the plane was 3.0 miles (4.8 km) northeast of the airport radio beacon known as KLUMP (see diagram), when First Officer Shaw acknowledged a routine instruction to change to tower frequency. After several attempts to hail the crew, controllers requested the assistance of Delta Air Lines Flight 1998 from Atlanta, GA and US Airways Flight 1452 from Charlotte, NC to make visual contact with the missing airplane; the Delta crew members responded that they did not see the plane.
During the flight and continuing through the plane's landing approach, the crew had been flying on autopilot. During final approach, the pilots extended the aircraft's flaps and landing gear for landing. After the landing gear and flaps had been extended, the flight data recorder (FDR) indicated that the airspeed had decayed to 145 knots (269 km/h). The captain, who was the pilot flying, then called for the flaps to be set at the 15 degree position. As the flaps transitioned past the 10 degree mark, the FDR indicated that the airspeed had further slowed to 135 knots (250 km/h). Six seconds later, the aircraft's stick shaker, a device intended to provide aural and tactile awareness of a low speed condition, sounded. At that time, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the autopilot disengaging. The FDR now indicated that the aircraft's speed was a dangerously slow 131 knots (243 km/h). However, instead of following the established stall recovery procedure of adding full power and lowering the nose to prevent the stall, the captain only added about 75% power and continued applying nose-up inputs. As the aircraft came even closer to stalling the stick pusher activated ("The Q400 stick pusher applies an airplane-nose-down control column input to decrease the wing angle-of-attack [AOA] after an aerodynamic stall"). The captain overrode the pusher and continued pulling on the control yoke causing the aircraft upset and subsequent loss of control. The plane went into a yaw (moved off course) and pitched up at an angle of 31 degrees in its final moments, before pitching down at 45 degrees. It then rolled to the left at 46 degrees and snapped back to the right at 105 degrees. Occupants aboard experienced forces estimated at nearly twice that of gravity. Witnesses on the ground indicated that they heard the engines sputter just before the crash.
The plane struggled for about 25 seconds, during which time the crew made no emergency declaration. It rapidly lost altitude and then crashed into a private home at 6038 Long Street, about 5 miles (8 km) from the end of the runway, and nearly directly under its intended approach path, with the nose pointed away from the destination airport. The aircraft exploded on impact, destroying the house and most of the plane, with the tail of the plane broken off and nearly intact. The house was the home of Douglas and Karen Wielinski along with their daughter Jill. Douglas was killed; his wife and daughter escaped with minor injuries and were treated at the Millard Fillmore Suburban hospital. The lots in the area are only 60 feet (18.3 meters) wide; the plane hit the house squarely, destroying it in the ensuing fire with little damage to surrounding homes. The home was close to the Clarence Center Fire Company, so emergency personnel were able to respond quickly. While fighting the blaze, two firefighters were injured. The crash and intense fire caused the evacuation of 12 nearby houses.
A total of 50 people were killed, including all four crew members, one off duty crew-member, all 44 other passengers, and one resident of the house that was struck. One woman on the plane was pregnant. There were four injuries on the ground, including two other people inside the home at the time of the crash. Among the dead were:
- Alison Des Forges, a human rights investigator and an expert on the Rwandan genocide.
- Beverly Eckert, who became co-chair of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee and a leader of Voices of September 11 after her husband Sean Rooney was killed in the September 11 attacks. She was en route to Buffalo to celebrate her husband's 58th birthday and award a scholarship in his memory at Canisius High School.
- Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett, jazz musicians who were en route to a concert with Chuck Mangione and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Colgan Air set up a telephone number for families and friends of those affected to call on February 13, and a family assistance center was opened at the Cheektowaga Senior Center in Cheektowaga CDP, Town of Cheektowaga, New York. The American Red Cross also opened reception centers in Buffalo and Newark where family members could receive support from mental health and spiritual care workers.
- During the afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives held a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
- Buffalo's professional ice hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres, held a moment of silence prior to their scheduled game the next night against the San Jose Sharks.
- The University at Buffalo (UB), which lost 11 passengers who were former employees, faculty or alumni, and 12 who were family members of faculty, employees, students or alumni in the crash, also held a remembrance service on February 17, 2009. A black band with the flight number was worn on UB players' uniforms for the remainder of the basketball season.
- Buffalo State College's 11th President Muriel Howard released a statement regarding the six alumni lost on Flight 3407. Beverly Eckert was a 1975 graduate from Buffalo State.
- On March 4, 2009, New York Governor David Paterson proposed the creation of a scholarship fund to benefit children and financial dependents of the 50 crash victims. The Flight 3407 Memorial Scholarship would cover costs for up to four years of undergraduate study at a SUNY or CUNY school, or a private college or university in New York State.
- The accident was the basis for a PBS Frontline episode on the regional airline industry. Discussed in the episode were issues relating to regional airline regulation, safety, and working conditions. Also discussed were the operating principles of regional airlines and the agreements between regional airlines and major airlines.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that they would send a team to the crash site on February 13 to begin the investigation. NTSB spokesman Steve Chealander said that 14 investigators were assigned to the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407. Both the Flight data recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit voice recorder (CVR) were retrieved and analyzed in Washington, D.C.
After initial FDR and CVR analysis, it was determined that the aircraft went through severe pitch and roll oscillations after positioning its flaps and landing gear for landing. Until that time, the Dash 8 had been maneuvering normally. The de-icing system was reported to be turned on. During descent, the crew reported about 3 miles (4.8 km) of visibility with snow and mist. Preceding the crash, the aircraft's stall-protection systems had activated. Instead of the aircraft's diving straight into the house as was initially thought, it was found that the aircraft fell 800 feet (240 m) before crashing pointing northeast, away from the destination airport. The passengers were given no warning of any trouble by the pilots. Occupants aboard the Dash 8 experienced an estimated force two times that of gravity just before impact. Chealander said information from the aircraft's flight data recorder indicates that the plane pitched up at an angle of 31 degrees, then down at 45 degrees. The Dash 8 rolled to the left at 46 degrees, then snapped back to the right at 105 degrees, before crashing into the house, and erupting in flames on impact.
At the crash scene, an area 2 square miles (5.2 km2) in size was cordoned off, despite the small footprint of the actual damage. Investigators stated it would take three or four days to remove all human remains and a few weeks to positively identify them. As the recovery efforts proceeded, Chealander remarked that freezing temperatures as well as difficulty accessing debris were slowing the investigation. Portable heaters had to be brought to the site to melt ice left in the wake of the firefighting efforts. Initial analysis of the aircraft's remains revealed the cockpit had sustained the greatest impact force, while the main cabin was mostly destroyed by the ensuing fireball. Towards the rear of the aircraft, passengers were found still strapped in their seats.
On February 15, more information on the crash was released by the NTSB saying it appeared the plane had been on autopilot when it went down. The investigators did not find evidence of the severe icing conditions that would have required the pilots to fly manually. Colgan Air recommends pilots fly manually in icing conditions, and requires they do so in severe icing conditions. The NTSB had issued a safety alert about the use of autopilot in icing conditions in December 2008. Without flying manually, pilots may be unable to feel changes in the handling characteristics of the airplane, which is a warning sign of ice buildup. The NTSB also revealed that the plane crashed a mere 26 seconds after trouble was first registered on the flight data recorder.
More details emerged on February 18. It was reported that a re-creation of events leading up to the crash indicated that the stick pusher had activated, which pushes the nose down when it determines a stall is imminent in order to maintain airspeed so the wings continue to generate lift and keep the aircraft aloft. The crew, concerned about a nose-down attitude so close to the ground, may have responded by pulling the nose upward and increasing power, but over-corrected, causing a stall or even a spin. Bill Voss, president of Flight Safety Foundation, told USA Today that it sounded like the plane was in "a deep stall situation".
On March 25, 2009, NTSB investigators said that icing probably did not contribute greatly to the accident. On May 11, 2009, new information came out that Captain Renslow had failed three "check rides" - the flying equivalent of driver proficiency tests, including some at Gulfstream International with its controversial pay-to-fly program, and it was suggested that he may not have been adequately trained to respond to the emergency that led to the airplane's fatal descent. Crew fatigue was also suspected, as both pilots appear to have been at Newark airport overnight and all day prior to the 9:18 pm departure. In response to questioning from National Transportation Safety Board members, Colgan Air officials acknowledged that both pilots apparently were not paying close attention to the aircraft's instruments and failed to follow the airline's procedures for handling an impending stall in the final minutes of the flight. 'I believe Capt. Renslow did have intentions of landing safely at Buffalo, as well as first officer Shaw, but obviously in those last few moments ... the flight instruments were not being monitored, and that's an indication of a lack of situational awareness,' said John Barrett, Colgan's director of flight standards. The official transcript of the crew's communication, obtained from the cockpit voice recorder, as well as an animated depiction of the crash, constructed using data from the flight data recorder were made available to the public on May 12, 2009, the first day of the public hearing. Some of the crew's communication violated federal rules banning nonessential conversation.
On June 3, 2009, the New York Times published an article detailing complaints about Colgan's operations from an FAA inspector who observed test flights in January 2008. As in a previous FAA incident handling other inspectors' complaints, the Colgan inspector's complaints were deferred and the inspector was demoted. The incident is under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, the agency responsible for U.S. Government federal whistle-blower complaints.
Safety issues examined during the accident investigation process, included pilot training, hiring, and fatigue problems, leading the FAA to issue a "Call to Action" for improvements in the practices of regional carriers.
On February 2, 2010, the NTSB adopted its final report into the accident. This was the first time in 15 years that a report had been adopted by the NTSB in less than a year from the date of the accident. It concluded that the cause of the accident was pilot error.
The captain failed to react in the proper manner, by decreasing the angle-of-attack, when the stick shaker activated. Instead, following the activation of both the stick shaker and the stick pusher, he countermanded by pulling back on the stick, which greatly exacerbated the situation. "...his improper flight control inputs were inconsistent with his training and were instead consistent with startle and confusion. It is unlikely that the captain was deliberately attempting to perform a tailplane stall recovery."
The NTSB was unable to determine why the first officer retracted the flaps and also suggested that the landing gear should be retracted. Her actions were also inconsistent with company stall recovery procedures and training. The actions of both pilots led to the aircraft entering an accelerated stall.
The method by which civil aircraft pilots can obtain their licenses was also criticized by the NTSB. The report was published on February 25, 2010.
The NTSB determined that in addition to Renslow's inadequate response to the stick shaker activation, there were key contributing factors. Primary among these were the flight crew's failure to monitor airspeed in relation to the rising position of the lowspeed cue and adhere to sterile cockpit procedures, Renslow's failure to effectively manage the flight, and Colgan Air’s inadequate airspeed selection and management procedures for during approaches in icing conditions.
The board further found that: "The pilots' performance was likely impaired because of fatigue, but the extent of their impairment and the degree to which it contributed to the performance deficiencies that occurred during the flight cannot be conclusively determined." Chairman Hersman, while concurring, made it clear in considering that fatigue was a contributing factor. She compared the twenty years that fatigue has remained on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (without getting substantial action on the matter from regulators) to the changes in tolerance for alcohol over the same time period, noting that the performance impacts of fatigue and alcohol were similar.
The FAA has proposed or implemented several rule changes as a result, in areas ranging from fatigue to Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP) qualifications. One of the most significant has already taken effect, changing the way examiners grade checkrides in flight simulators during stalls.
Renslow's decision to pull back on the elevators when the stick began to shake, raising the nose, baffled investigators initially, since that was the exact opposite of what pilots are trained to do in that situation. Since it caused the stall, it was the reason his error was blamed for the crash. Investigators were still not sure why he had pulled when he should have pushed, as he had at least 2,000 feet (610 m) to recover with. Some have speculated that the FAA's recent education campaign on tailplane icing (where one pulls back on the yoke because it is the horizontal stabilizer and not the wing which has stalled) was to blame.
One eventually looked at the Practical Test Standards (PTS) for ATP certification, which allowed for an elevation loss of no more than 100 feet (30 m) in a simulated stall. The NTSB theorized that due to this low tolerance, pilots may have come to fear loss of altitude in a stall and so acted more to prevent that, even to the detriment of recovering from the stall itself. New standards subsequently issued by the FAA eliminate any specific amount, calling instead for "minimal loss of elevation" in a stall. One examiner has told an aviation magazine that he is not allowed to fail any applicant for losing altitude in a simulated stall so long as the pilot is able to regain the original altitude.
The family members of Flight 3407 were crucial in getting the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administrative Extension Act of 2010 passed. Their website is www.3407memorial.com
The story of the disaster was featured on the tenth season of Canadian National Geographic Channel show Mayday (known as Air Emergency in the US, Mayday in Ireland and France, and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and the rest of world).
See also 
- American Eagle Flight 3008 – incident in 2006 and others back to 1998 involving ice buildup
- Atlantic Coast Airlines Flight 6291
- China Airlines Flight 140 - a similar accident caused by aerodynamic stall
- Icing conditions in aviation
- UPDATE ON NTSB INVESTIGATION INTO CRASH OF COLGAN AIR DASH-8 NEAR BUFFALO, NEW YORK NTSB Advisory, March 25, 2009 "The data indicate a likely separation of the airflow over the wing and ensuing roll two seconds after the stick shaker activated while the aircraft was slowing through 125 knots and while at a flight load of 1.42 Gs. The predicted stall speed at a load factor of 1 G would be about 105 knots." NOTE: The predicted stall speed for this aircraft at a flight load of 1.42 Gs would be about 125 kts which is arrived at by multiplying 105 kts (the predicted stall speed at 1 G) by 1.19164 (the square root of the flight load in Gs). Icing on the wing and tail surfaces, if any, would increase this stall speed.
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- Transcript of CVR recording
- "NTSB: Crew reported ice buildup before crash". MSNBC. February 12, 2009. Retrieved February 14, 2009.
- NTSB Report
- "NTSB: Colgan 3407 pitched up despite anti-stall push". Flight Global. February 15, 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
- "Too early to tell if icing caused crash, NTSB says". The Buffalo News. February 15, 2009. Retrieved February 15, 2009.[dead link]
- Residents Survive After Plane Crashes Through Home. WBEN 930 Buffalo, NY. 13 February 2009.[dead link]
- Karen Wielinski tells her story of survival after Flight 3407 crashed into her home February 13, 2009
- "Mom, daughter escape after plane crashes into home". cnn.com. February 13, 2009. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
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- http://www.culturewars.com/2011/Pilots.htm. Retrieved April 4, 2011. Missing or empty
|Wikinews has the following articles detailing the reaction at the time to the crash of Flight 3407:|
- NTSB Final report
- Flight 3407 Information - Colgan Air (Archive)
- Website created and maintained by family members and close friends of victims who perished onboard flight 3407
- NTSB Computer simulation of last 2 minutes of flight 3407, National Transportation Safety Board
- NTSB Public hearing, May 12-14, 2009. (Includes webcast of complete hearing and link to docket with all relevant documents, including Flight Data Recorder data and Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript)
- Flight path for CJC3407 in 3D/Google Earth at flightwise.com
- Flight track data for Continental Connection flight 3407 at flightwise.com
- Information Regarding Flight 3407 - Continental Airlines
- Flight tracker and Track log
- Flickr photo set of the crash
- A picture of the aircraft taken in late 2008.
- After Sept. 11, 'He Wanted Me To Live A Full Life' (about victim Beverly Eckert) from NPR radio
- Buffalo Crash Puts Focus On Regional Airlines from NPR radio
- Frontline (U.S. TV series) - Flying Cheap - February 9, 2010. One year after the deadly crash of Continental 3407, FRONTLINE investigate the safety issues associated with regional airlines.
- Track log for Continental Connection flight 3407 (CJC3407) at flightwise.com