Buffalo, New York plane crash may have resulted from pilot error

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, similar to the aircraft involved in the incident

The investigation into Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed near Buffalo, New York last week, suggests that the pilot of the turboprop commuter airliner may have put the aircraft into its plunge.

A source close to the investigation says that information from the flight data recorder on board the aeroplane indicated that the pilot's control column, the device which is used to steer the aircraft, was pulled upward abruptly, thereby causing the nose of the aeroplane to pitch up.

The sudden pitch-up movement happened soon after the flight crew received a warning in the cockpit that the aircraft was about to stall. In aviation, a stall is when the air no longer flows over the wings of an aeroplane, and the aircraft can no longer keep the lift necessary to keep it airborne, causing it to fall.

The normal manoeuvre to recover from a stall for wing icing is to apply full power to the engines and push the nose down. For a tail stall recovery, the opposite procedure is used: the nose should be pulled up and engine power reduced. In this instance, the pilot seems to have pulled the nose upward, but also increased the engine throttles to their full setting.

After the aeroplane pulled up abruptly, it then pitched down at an angle of 31 degrees, rolling left and right, partially upside-down. This sort of stall is known as an aggravated stall, and it can be very difficult to return the aeroplane to normal flight from one. In this case, the pilot had less than two thousand feet to do so before the aircraft crashed into the ground.

The pilot's training has now been put into question, and it was discovered that the captain, Marvin Renslow, aged 47, had logged only 110 hours in this particular aircraft, though he had thousands of hours in similar aircraft. Experts say his experience should have adequately prepared him.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, Keith Holloway, said that it is currently too early to definitively say what caused the crash. "We have not concluded anything," he said.

Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center, a suburb of Buffalo on February 12 in icy weather, killing all 49 people on board the aeroplane and one person on the ground.


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