Kreindler Successful in Pilatus PC-12 Crash in Butte, Montana
- Kreindler was successful on behalf of the families of victims in the March 22, 2009, Pilatus PC-12 fatal crash in Butte,
- Kreindler prosecuted a civil action against Pilatus for the crash of a PC-12 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
NTSB chairman identified similarities between the Butte, MT crash and the Bellefonte, PA crash.
Kreindler aviation attorneys are closely following the February 24, 2023 fatal crash of a Pilatus PC-12 medical Care Flight airplane near Stagecoach, Nevada
Plans for a ski vacation in Big Sky, Montana ended tragically for a group of family and friends who were flying aboard a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft on March 22, 2009. The flight’s original destination was Bozeman, Montana, but the aircraft diverted to Butte, Montana while en route. The PC-12 crashed into a cemetery approximately 500 feet from the centerline of the runway it was attempting to land on, killing all 14 onboard - 7 young children, their 6 parents, and the pilot.
The plane’s flaps, which are normally lowered for landing, were still in the up position. Eyewitnesses stated that the airplane appeared too high to land on the runway and that the plane jerked sharply to the left and then “nose dived” into the ground. According to reports, the crew did not make any distress calls.
The airplane that crashed was a single-engine turboprop PC-12 manufactured in Switzerland by Pilatus Aircraft, Ltd. The plane, registry number N128CM was manufactured in 2001 and registered to Eagle Cap Leasing, Inc. in Enterprise, Oregon.
Although the precise cause of the crash was not initially known, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a Preliminary Report that confirmed the possibility of several causes that had been the focus of our investigation. While investigators did not know why the diversion was made, they explored several possibilities, including weather-related issues and mechanical problems. The Preliminary Report, however, makes clear that the weather at Bozeman should not have been a concern. Furthermore, the post-impact fire seems to confirm that insufficient fuel to reach Bozeman was also not an issue. While mechanical failure remained a reason for the diversion, pilots at Kreindler believe it would be highly unusual to request a diversion for mechanical reasons without stating so to Air Traffic Control.
The observations of the plane’s behavior prior to the crash are consistent with a stall while maneuvering to land. A stall occurs when the aircraft is flying too slow such that the wings are no longer able to produce the necessary lift to maintain flight and the aircraft suddenly and rapidly loses altitude. The pilot may have been trying to maneuver the plane for landing and let the plane’s speed get too slow resulting in the sudden, uncontrolled stall. If true, such a stall could have been caused by aircraft design issues, icing, or other stall-inducing factors, such as weight and the distribution of weight in the aircraft.
The NTSB chairman identified similarities between the Butte, Montana, crash and the crash of a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Kreindler represented the family of one of the victims of that crash in lawsuits pending in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Based upon our investigation, we believe the Bellefonte crash was caused by a defectively designed stick pusher system that failed to meet FAA airworthiness requirements.
In the Media
According to a CBS News story, former NTSB chairman Jim Hall noted similarities between the Butte, Montana crash and a 2005 PC-12 plane crash near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. In addition to both planes crashing while on approach to an airport and reports of weather conditions conducive to icing, witnesses reported the planes appeared to “dive into the ground.” Jim Hall “pointed to a recommendation on NTSB’s “most wanted list” of safety improvements that FAA test the ability of turboprop planes to withstand a particular type of icing condition called “super cooled liquid drops” before certifying the aircraft design for flight.”
Previous Kreindler Pilatus PC-12 Cases
Kreindler partners including Anthony Tarricone successfully represented family members in the March 26, 2005, Pilatus PC-12 crash near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania which resulted in the loss of six people. Our investigation uncovered failures in the electrical system which rendered the anti-stall stick-pusher inoperative. After an engine flameout, the PC-12 stalled and entered a deadly spin at low altitude when the stick-pusher failed to activate.
History and Issues of the Pilatus PC-12
The Pilatus PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop passenger aircraft that was launched by the Swiss-based manufacturer in the mid-1990s.
Aircraft System Failure/Fault
The PC-12 is known to have unusual and potentially dangerous stall characteristics. So much so, in fact, that when Pilatus Aircraft, Ltd. first sought to certify the aircraft for sale and use within the United States, the FAA required the incorporation of a “stick-pusher” anti-stall system to help make the plane safer in certain flight conditions. This “work-around” did not change the hazardous aerodynamic characteristics of the airplane.
The stick-pusher is designed to warn pilots of impending stalls and automatically lowers the nose of the aircraft when stall conditions are detected to increase the lift produced by the wings and keep the plane flying. The PC-12’s stick-shaker and stick-pusher system may be implicated here for failing to prevent an aircraft stall. In the past, the stick-pusher system has been the subject of two safety-related Airworthiness Directives issued by the FAA.
Despite hundreds of low fuel pressure events due to icing in the fuel, a warning was never displayed on the airplane’s Caution and Warning System due to deficiencies in the way the system was programmed.
The PC-12 also has a history of problems in cold weather operations that affect the fuel system. The Preliminary Report also stated that there was a cloud layer at 8,000 feet which may mean the aircraft could have passed through an area that was conducive to ice formation on the plane’s wings and tail surfaces. In-flight icing is dangerous for two reasons: first, when ice forms on an aircraft, it increases the plane’s overall weight; second, as ice builds up on wings and tail surfaces, it changes the way that air flows across these surfaces. The added weight and altered airflow combine to change the fundamental flight characteristics of the aircraft. In such situations, ice formation can result in the plane stalling at a higher airspeed than normal and the pilot has no way of knowing what that new stall speed is. For this reason, icing can result in sudden, uncontrollable stalls, especially when an aircraft is slowing for the approach.
aircraft is equipped with de-icing boots designed to inflate and deflate
periodically to prevent ice from accumulating on the leading edges of the wings
and tail, but this technology does not prevent ice from building up in other
critical areas, including immediately behind the de-icing boots. If icing is
determined to have contributed to the crash, the design and operation of the
de-icing system will have to be closely scrutinized.
Investigators also focused on icing as a possible cause of the recent crash in Buffalo,
New York, of Continental Connection Flight 3407. The aircraft in that crash was
a Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 twin-engine turboprop, which utilizes a de-icing
system similar to the Pilatus PC-12. Kreindler has been
retained by the families of seven victims of the Buffalo crash.
Aircraft overloading is another scenario that was closely examined by investigators. The PC-12 has the capacity to hold up to ten passengers and has a maximum landing weight of about 9,900 pounds. Although there were fourteen persons aboard the airplane, seven of them were children between the ages of one and nine years old. Investigators have not identified overloading as a contributing factor, but passenger and luggage weights, as well as the weight of the fuel onboard, must be determined to provide a complete assessment.
It’s notable that Kreindler’s investigation overcame the conclusion of the NTSB that the pilot was to blame.
About Kreindler & Kreindler
Kreindler is the preeminent aviation accident law firm in the world. Our attorneys have been appointed leading counsel in nearly every major commercial airline disaster case in the U.S. and abroad. Since 1950, we have fought diligently to achieve a record of success in resolving plane and helicopter crash cases on behalf of our clients. Kreindler has law offices in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.