American Eagle Flight 4184
An American Eagle ATR 72–212 similar to the accident aircraft
|Date||October 31, 1994|
|Summary||Atmospheric icing leading to loss of control|
Near Roselawn, Indiana, U.S.|
|Aircraft type||ATR 72–212|
|Operator||Simmons Airlines for American Eagle|
|Flight origin||Indianapolis International Airport|
|Destination||Chicago O'Hare International Airport|
American Eagle Flight 4184 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Indianapolis, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois, United States. On October 31, 1994, the ATR 72 performing this route flew into severe icing conditions, lost control and crashed into a field. All 68 people aboard were killed in the high speed impact.
The aircraft involved, registration N401AM, was built by the French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR and was powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127 turbo-prop engines. It made its first flight on March 7, 1994, and was delivered to American Eagle on March 24, 1994. It was operated by Simmons Airlines on behalf of American Eagle.:1 American Eagle was the banner carrier regional airline branding program of AMR Corporation's regional system, prior to the formation of the fully certificated carrier named American Eagle Airlines.
Passengers and crew
The captain of Flight 4184 was Orlando Aguilar, 29. He was an experienced pilot with almost 8,000 hours of flight time, including 1,548 hours in the ATR.:13 Colleagues described Aguilar's flying skills in positive terms and commented on the relaxed cockpit atmosphere that he promoted.:13 The first officer was Jeffrey Gagliano, 30. He was also considered to be a competent pilot by colleagues and he had accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours, of which 3,657 hours in the ATR.:14 The two flight attendants were 27-year-old Sandi Modaff, and 23-year-old Amanda Holberg, who was working her first day as a flight attendant with American Eagle.
The weather condition of the area of Roselawn, Indiana, was recorded by National Weather Service. The summary revealed a low pressure center in the area of west central Indiana, and "...cloud ceilings of less than 1,000 feet and/or visibilities of less than 3 miles, in rain," occurring in northern Indiana at 1600 local time. A cold front was also extended from the low pressure center in a southwesterly direction. The surface temperature of the accident site was reported of 7 degrees Celsius.
NWS's analysis indicated a low pressure area with the center located in west central Indiana at 1800. The temperatures in the area where flight 4184 was holding were reported near 3 degrees Celsius with moisture evident. Temperatures were near minus 4 degrees Celsius with moisture evident in northern Indiana.
The weather conditions provided by Lowell Airport, which located about 12 nautical miles northwest of the accident site, indicated broken clouds at 1400 ft, overcast at 3000 ft, gusty winds from southwest at 20 knots, with light drizzle falling. However, the report was estimated that the observation was made about 30 minutes after the accident.:17
The flight was en route from Indianapolis International Airport, Indiana, to O'Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois. Bad weather in Chicago caused delays, prompting air traffic control to hold Flight 4184 over the nearby LUCIT intersection at 10,000 ft (3,000 m). While holding, the plane encountered freezing rain, a dangerous icing condition where supercooled droplets rapidly cause intense ice buildup. Soon after, they were cleared to descend to 8,000 ft (2,400 m). After this descent the pilots were ordered to enter another hold. During the descent, a sound indicating an overspeed warning due to the extended flaps was heard in the cockpit. After the pilot took action by retracting the flaps, a strange noise was heard on the cockpit voice recorder, followed by a sharp, uncommanded roll excursion that disengaged the autopilot. Flight recorder data showed that the aircraft subsequently went through at least one full roll, after which Aguilar and Gagliano regained control of the rapidly descending aircraft. However, another roll occurred shortly after as they engaged the autopilot again. This second occurrence was unrecoverable, and fewer than thirty seconds later, at 3:59 p.m., contact with Flight 4184 was lost as the plane crashed nose-down into a soybean field near Roselawn, Indiana, killing all 64 passengers and 4 crew on board.
The disintegration of the plane indicated extreme velocity, and data recovered from the flight data recorder showed that the plane had an indicated airspeed of 375 kn (694 km/h; 432 mph) at impact. There was no explosion or post-impact fire, as the high speed of the impact caused the fuel to disperse before it could ignite. The bodies of all on board were fragmented by the impact forces, therefore the crash site was declared a biohazard.
Flight 4184 was the first loss and also the highest death toll of any aviation accident involving an ATR 72 aircraft. 16 years later, Aero Caribbean Flight 883 crashed into a high range of terrain, also due to icing conditions, resulting in the same number of fatalities. Robert A. Clifford, a Chicago airplane accident attorney, represented 16 of the 68 victims. As the trial was ready to begin, the defendants agreed to a record $110 million settlement and an apology from both the manufacturer and the airline in open court.
As is customary in these reports, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a statement of "probable cause" near the end of its report. The probable cause statement in this report was considerably longer than is typical. The NTSB found that ATR (the manufacturer of that aircraft), the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation (the French counterpart of the American FAA), and the FAA itself had each contributed to that accident, because each had failed in its duty to ensure the highest possible level of safety to the traveling public.
The unabridged NTSB "probable cause" statement reads:
- 3.2 Probable Cause
- The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable causes of this accident were the loss of control, attributed to a sudden and unexpected aileron hinge moment reversal that occurred after a ridge of ice accreted beyond the deice boots because: 1) ATR failed to completely disclose to operators, and incorporate in the ATR 72 airplane flight manual, flightcrew operating manual and flightcrew training programs, adequate information concerning previously known effects of freezing precipitation on the stability and control characteristics, autopilot and related operational procedures when the ATR 72 was operated in such conditions; 2) the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation's (DGAC's) inadequate oversight of the ATR 42 and 72, and its failure to take the necessary corrective action to ensure continued airworthiness in icing conditions; and 3) the DGAC's failure to provide the FAA with timely airworthiness information developed from previous ATR incidents and accidents in icing conditions, as specified under the Bilateral Airworthiness Agreement and Annex 8 of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
- Contributing to the accident were: 1) the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) failure to ensure that aircraft icing certification requirements, operational requirements for flight into icing conditions, and FAA published aircraft icing information adequately accounted for the hazards that can result from flight in freezing rain and other icing conditions not specified in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 25, Appendix C; and 2) the FAA's inadequate oversight of the ATR 42 and 72 to ensure continued airworthiness in icing conditions.:210
In the years following this accident, AMR Corporation stopped using its American Eagle ATRs out of its northern hubs and moved them to its southern and Caribbean hubs at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Miami, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, to reduce potential icing problems in the future. Other U.S. former ATR operators, particularly the SkyWest, Inc., subsidiary and Delta Connection operator Atlantic Southeast Airlines, operated ATR 72 aircraft in areas where icing conditions were not common.
 Several months after the tragic accident that claimed the lives of 68 people, more discoveries were made. In March of 1995, the families of the victims discovered remains of their loved ones on the accident site, leaving them furious. The families were left with the notion that the cleanup efforts were rather lackluster and questioned the crew for their performance. The Newton County coroner in a statement regarding other comments that were made said he was not surprised that there were remains left given how serious the accident was. The event in general was heartbreaking to the families, but the aftermath and efforts by the cleanup crew was frustrating.
In April 1996 the FAA issued 18 Airworthiness Directives (ADs) affecting 29 turboprop aircraft which had the combination of unpowered flight controls, pneumatic deicing boots and NACA "five-digit sharp-stall" airfoils. They included significant revisions of pilot operating procedures in icing conditions (higher minimum speeds, non-use of the autopilot, different upset recovery procedures) as well as physical changes to the coverage area of the de-icing boots on the airfoils.
While the ATR 42 and ATR 72 aircraft are now compliant with all icing condition requirements imposed by those 18 ADs, the de-icing boots still only reach back to 12.5% of the chord. Prior to the accident, they had extended only to 5% and 7%, respectively. Robert Boser believes the ADs still fail to deal with the findings of tests conducted by British regulators at MoD Boscombe Down, which demonstrated that ice could form as far back on the wing as 23% of the chord, and on the tail at 30% of the chord. Both percentages are well beyond the reach of the extended deicing boots installed in compliance with the FAA ADs. Those tests limited the size of the droplets to 40 micrometres, near the maximum limit of the FAA design certification rules for Transport Category aircraft (Part 25, Appendix C), still in effect at that time of the Roselawn crash. "Extensive airborne testing" following the accident revealed that airliners can encounter water droplets exceeding 200 micrometers in average diameter. It is likely that the lack of further ATR icing accidents is attributable to the changes in pilot operating procedures, as well as the moving of those aircraft to operating areas where severe icing is not a problem, rather than to the modest extension of the de-icer boots to 12.5% of the chord.
- This crash was featured in the Discovery Channel program The New Detectives in an episode titled "Witness to Terror". (The episode incorrectly gives number of victims killed on the flight as 72.)
- The crash was featured in the theatrical production Charlie Victor Romeo.
- The crash was featured in Season 7 of the Canadian-made documentary series Mayday, in an episode titled "Frozen in Flight".
- The crash was briefly mentioned in an episode of Modern Marvels ("Sub Zero") on The History Channel.
- Aero Caribbean Flight 883
- Air Ontario Flight 1363
- Ice protection system
- Scandinavian Airlines Flight 751
- USAir Flight 405
- West Wind Aviation Flight 280
- Comair Flight 3272
- Including 1 dual South African-United States citizen.
- "IN-FLIGHT ICING ENCOUNTER AND LOSS OF CONTROL SIMMONS AIRLINES, d.b.a. AMERICAN EAGLE FLIGHT 4184 AVIONS de TRANSPORT REGIONAL (ATR) MODEL 72-212, N401AM, ROSELAWN, INDIANA OCTOBER 31, 1994" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. July 9, 1996. AAR-96-01. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
- "FAA Registry (N401AM)". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "ASN Aircraft accident ATR-72-212 N401AM Roselawn, IN". Aviation-safety.net. October 31, 1994. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- "American Eagle N401AM".
- "Crew and Passengers aboard Flight 4184".
- McRoberts; Kendall (November 2, 1994). "From One Tragedy, 68 Stories". Chicago Tribune.
- ASN Aircraft accident description ATR 72–212 N401AM – Roselawn, IN
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 9, 2013. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- Washburn, Gary. "Body Parts At Crash Site Anger Victims' Families". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
- Boser, Robert (September 2002). "Editor's Reply to Letter to the Editor – Unheeded Warning". AirlineSafety.com.
- Unheeded Warning: The Inside Story of American Eagle Flight 4184[page needed]
- The Internet Movie Database – The New Detectives: Case Studies In Forensic Science (Season 2, Episode 11 – Witness To Terror) (1998)
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- "NTSB AAR-96/01 – NTSB Aircraft Accident Report" (PDF). (3.58 MiB), 340 pages)
- "NTSB AAR-96/02 – Comments of Bureau Enquête-Accidents" (PDF). (4.42 MiB), 341 pages)
- PlaneCrashInfo.Com entry on Flight 4184
- Tv.Com – New Detectives: Witness to Terror (Details Flight 4184 investigation)
- Site for Families and Friends of 4184