Kreindler Wins on Behalf of Victims in Continental Connection/Colgan Flight 3407 Crash Buffalo, New York
Kreindler partners Justin Green and Dan Rose were appointed as lead counsel and partner Jim Kreindler was appointed as Chair of the Plaintiffs Executive Committee. They lead a team of Kreindler attorneys and legal professionals in a highly successful prosecution against Colgan Airlines. Kreindler represented fourteen families and revolved the cases after protracted litigation.
The Colgan crash was a watershed event in aviation safety. The case against the airline focused on endemic safety problems in the regional airline issues. Kreindler supported the successful efforts of the families of the Colgan victims to lobby Congress for laws requiring enhanced experience for professional pilots.
April 17, 2012
Kreindler partner Justin T. Green comments on Pinnacle Airlines’ bankruptcy filing. Pinnacle Airlines, Inc. is the parent company of Colgan Air, which operated Continental Connection Flight 3407 that crashed in Clarence Center, Buffalo, in February 2009. Justin Green represents several of the Colgan Air Flight 3407 plaintiffs.
This puts the families in a tough position, but at the same time, the claims pose a major problem for Delta, and for Pinnacle to come out of this bankruptcy.
NTSB March 25, 2009 Advisory
On Wednesday, March 25, 2009, the NTSB released an update on its investigation into Colgan Flight 3407, which crashed five miles from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport on February 12, 2009, while on approach to the airport. The update largely confirms the Kreindler & Kreindler LLP analysis to date which has focused on piloting error and operational failures as well as airline training and crew pairing procedures.
According to the update, the NTSB has examined the operation of the aircraft systems, reviewed the maintenance history of the aircraft, considered air traffic control conduct, evaluated the weather conditions at the time of the crash, reviewed the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) data, examined operational and human factors aspects relating to the crash, and evaluated toxicology specimens.
The NTSB found “no indication of pre-impact system failures or anomalies” meaning all aircraft systems were operating as designed. The NTSB found “no significant [maintenance] findings” meaning there was no maintenance issue related to the crash. The Air Traffic Control group of the NTSB investigative team has “no further work planned” meaning that Air Traffic Controller conduct did not play a role in this crash. Finally, the NTSB found that “[s]pecimens taken from the captain [and first officer] were negative for alcohol and illicit substances” meaning the flight crew was not impaired by any substance.
The NTSB, however, did find “the presence of variable periods of snow and light to moderate icing during the accident airplane’s approach” and furthermore it found “that some ice accumulation was likely present on the airplane prior to the initial upset event.” But the NTSB determined “that the airplane continued to respond as expected to flight control inputs throughout the accident flight.” Essentially, the NTSB has so far found that while conditions during the fatal approach to landing at Buffalo Niagara International Airport were conducive to aircraft icing and, in fact, there was likely ice on the aircraft, it found that any ice that may have been on the aircraft was not a factor in the crash since the aircraft remained entirely controllable by the crew.
Flight Crew Error
These findings taken together suggest a conclusion that the flight crew’s operation of the aircraft was a substantial, if not sole, cause of this crash. There being no aircraft system failure, and the aircraft having been controllable throughout the flight leads, through a process of elimination, to an inevitable conclusion that something the flight crew did, or failed to do, caused this crash.
What actions or inactions by the flight crew may explain the crash is also suggested by the update. The NTSB explains that the FDR data shows that Flight 3407 was allowed to fly at a very slow speed by the crew as it was on its approach to Buffalo Niagara airport. The FDR (and likely the Cockpit Voice Recorder, or CVR) shows that the system designed to warn the flight crew of a slow speed, the “stick shaker” system, activated. The “stick shaker” system works by “shaking” the control yoke back and forth in the pilot’s and co-pilot’s hands thereby warning them the plane is approaching a dangerously slow speed. The FDR data then shows that the flight crew improperly reacted to the “stick shaker” system. The correct response by the flight crew should be to push forward on the control yoke to lower the nose of the aircraft to gain additional airspeed. In fact, the “stick shaker” is followed by a “stick-pusher” which automatically moves the control yoke forward to lower the nose of the airplane to gain speed. However, the FDR tells us the pilot instead pulled back on the control yoke with 25 pounds of force overpowering the “stick pusher” and causing the plane’s nose to pitch upward 31 degrees which slowed the airplane’s speed even more to the dangerous point where the plane stopped flying, stalled and fell out of the sky.
Flight Crew Training and Experience
Kreindler attorneys, since shortly after initiating their own investigation, have been focusing on the conduct of the crew as the reason the aircraft stopped flying and entered a stall. But Kreindler attorneys have been looking beyond what the flight crew did, or did not to, and into what led the flight crew to use improper stall avoidance and recovery procedures. The firm’s focus has been on the training Colgan provides for their flight crews and on the Colgan policies regarding the pairing of pilots and co-pilots.
If the Colgan training syllabus did not emphasize the correct stall avoidance or recovery procedures, or did not adequately train their flight crews of the dangers of improperly handling a stall or impending stall, the fault of the airline for this tragedy will be traced directly to corporate policy. In this regard we will be examining a similar crash involving a Pinnacle Airlines (the parent company to Colgan Airlines) aircraft which crashed five years ago outside of Jefferson City, Missouri, when the pilots did not react properly and stalled that airplane.
The issue of flight crew experience will also be examined closely and Colgan’s policies in this regard will be scrutinized. Pairing a pilot with approximately 100 hours in the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 with a co-pilot who had only several hundreds of hours in the same aircraft is contrary to industry standards, which pair new pilots with very experienced co-pilots (thousands of hours in the same aircraft) — and vice-versa — as a means of maintaining adequate margins of safety. A standard “rule of thumb” is the “2,000-hour rule” which mandates that a pilot and co-pilot should have at least 2,000 hours between them in the type of plane they are flying. Here, the flight crew had less than 1,000 hours between them.
The NTSB update also confirms that Flight 3407 was on autopilot during its approach to the airport. This is significant because autopilot reliance has been implicated in icing-related accidents that our firm has investigated and litigated on behalf of victims’ families, including the 1994 American Eagle Flight 4184 crash at Roselawn, Indiana, and the 1997 Comair Flight 3272 crash at Monroe, Michigan. The use of an autopilot in icing conditions also contributed to a near disaster in 2005 involving an earlier Bombardier Dash-8 model aircraft. In that case a Provincial Airlines Dash-8 stalled in icing conditions while on autopilot during its initial climb. The airplane lost 4,200 feet of altitude before the pilots were able to regain control.
The NTSB update also specifically mentioned “sterile cockpit” procedures. A “sterile cockpit” means that during high work load phases of the flight, such as takeoff, approach and landing, the flight crew will not engage in non-pertinent conversation, such as “chit chat” or flirting. The approach phase during which Colgan Flight 3407 crashed was such a “sterile cockpit” phase of flight. Kreindler will continue to look at whether the pilots were performing their duties properly. The cockpit voice recorder will tell us whether the flight crew maintained a sterile cockpit or were otherwise distracted.
In other cases our firm has handled, pilots have made tragic mistakes because they were not paying attention to their duties. It is far too easy to get complacent, especially when the autopilot is engaged, and become distracted if the flight crew is not focused on the task at hand, in this case: landing the aircraft safely. Here, the flight crew did not appreciate that the airplane’s speed was slowing and then did not react properly to the “stick shaker” stall warnings. We will focus our investigation on why the pilots did not prevent the dangerous slow down in airspeed and why they didn’t react properly when the stall warnings went off.
Federal law prohibits attorneys from soliciting victims’ families for the first 45 days after an accident. Unfortunately, that deadline expired on March 29th and marketing attorneys will send mass mailings to the families starting early next week. Kreindler & Kreindler LLP does not engage in such activity and supports the efforts of the NTSB to protect families from harassing attorneys. While attorneys will be permitted to mail advertisements to the families, they are not allowed under attorney ethical rules to solicit in person or have agents (runners) solicit for them. No attorney or anyone working for an attorney should show up uninvited on your doorstep. In the event you are improperly contacted by a lawyer or someone acting on behalf of a law firm, you should report the improper conduct to the NTSB’s General Counsel’s office, the New York State Bar Association or New York’s Attorney Disciplinary Committees.
Families should not feel pressure to take immediate legal action. New York’s (and New Jersey’s) wrongful death statute of limitations is two years. In the event the accident investigation points to deficiencies in government air traffic control or weather services, a Notice of Claim must be filed against the government within two years.
Thumbnail image of Continental Connection Colgan Flight 3407 source Rudi Riet.