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Sad, Brutal, Curious: NTSB Hearings On CO3407 Reveal Cockpit Chatter

Crew Had VERY Little Warning Of Accident

The hearings conducted by the NTSB, Tuesday, are proving to be as nearly as painful as the accident itself -- to those left behind. The transcript of the cockpit voice recorder aboard Continental Connection Flight 3407, leaves little question that the pilots of the Bombardier Q400 violated anyone's definition of "sterile cockpit" while on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport the night of February 12th.
 
In a conversation which continued until less than three minutes before the plane came down on a home in suburban Clarence Center, New York, First Officer Rebecca Shaw and Captain Marvin Renslow chatted about icing, including Shaw's near-complete inexperience with it when hired, and openly discussed shortcomings in both their own experience, and in training offered by the regional airline.
 
Shaw commented that her 1600 hours before joining Colgan were all flown in the Phoenix area, and that she experienced more ice on her first day at the new job than in her previous logged time.
 
About 5 minutes before impact, she commented to Renslow, quote - "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never experienced any of that.
 
About 3 minutes before the crash, Renslow commented that after flying in Florida, where the panhandle area of the state was the only place he'd seen ice, he was surprised by how much ice a Saab 340 turboprop could pick up, quote - "...and still keep truckin'...saw it out on the spinner, ice comin' out about that far, my eyes about that big around, I'm going, gosh. I mean, Florida man, barely a little, you know, out of Pensacola."

The situation deteriorated rapidly after that, as the plane descended through 2-thousand-300 feet, with little to suggest the pilots knew exactly what was happening. NTSB investigators who examined the cockpit data recorder say one of the pilots responded to the plane's automated stall protection system by overpowering the stick pusher to command a sudden nose-up pitch, stalling the plane.
The 3407 crash will put training issues, especially among the regionals, in a harsh light for some time to come. The NTSB has determined that Renslow had no hands-on training with the stick-shaker which alerts Q400 pilots to an imminent stall, or with the automated stick-pusher designed to recover angle-of-attack if the pilot fails to do so.


 
In a recent interview with ANN, John King of The King Schools hypothesized that Renslow may have mistaken the stick shaking for a symptom of a tailplane stall, which would indicate a nose-up command in response. Neither pilot apparently noticed decaying airspeed until it was too late.
 
The New York Times reports that Colgan admitted Monday that when it trains pilots in a flight simulator, the stick shaker and pusher are not part of the syllabus, because the FAA doesn't require it. The airline has insisted throughout the investigation that its training of Renslow and his qualifications met all FAA requirements.
 
It seems likely the NTSB will ask the FAA to add a few more requirements in the coming scrutiny. Renslow's pilot history is also drawing raised eyebrows. The Wall Street Journal reports he failed five "check rides" in a cockpits and simulators. Two of those failures happened after he was hired at Colgan, and the company says it knew about a third which had happened earlier, but that when Renslow applied for the job, he didn't mention two earlier failures during his general aviation career.

Colgan says Renslow had been successful in six checkrides since his last "unsatisfactory," but the airline has also recently replaced a number of its senior check airmen.

One issue which clearly had little to do with Colgan, but is common across the industry, is pilots choosing to be based in cities far from where they choose to make their homes. In the case of Flight 3407, Renslow lived in Florida, and Shaw in Washington state, but both were based in Newark, New Jersey.

While both had plenty of available rest time before the accident flight, they didn't necessarily use it resting. Both had to commute long distances on February 12th. Notably, Shaw took a red-eye Wednesday night to arrive at work Thursday morning in New Jersey.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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