Fatigue cited as possible factor in plane crash near Buffalo

The tail of the aircraft is visible at the crash site in Clarence Center, New York, in February.
Fatigue affecting the flight crew may have contributed to a plane crash that killed 50 people in February near Buffalo, New York, according to testimony at an investigative hearing.

National Transportation Safety Board hearings this week suggested that crews on a number of airlines could be suffering from lack of sleep. Many airline crews live far from their base of operations, causing them to come to work fatigued, NTSB investigators said on Wednesday. Thursday is the third and final day of the hearings on Capitol Hill into the Colgan Air crash. The NTSB said the hearing was to gather information. The agency has not issued its report on the cause of the crash. Colgan Air pilot Marvin Renslow had nearly a full day off before assuming command of Flight 3407. Yet the NTSB investigation found he slept in the Newark Airport crew lounge — against Colgan Air regulations. The airline, though, appears not to have been enforcing that rule. “The Colgan policy is that they’re not to sleep in the crew room, but it turns out they are sleeping in the crew room,” said NTSB board member Kitty Higgins. Watch hearing address issues of crew fatigue » Daniel Morgan, Colgan’s vice president for flight safety, explained, “People can come in between their flights to take a nap.” Asked if napping was considered sleeping, he replied, “That’s a definition I’m probably not prepared to answer.”

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First Officer Rebecca Shaw had three days off before the flight. Yet she commuted through the night from Seattle, catching rides on connecting Fed Ex flights to get to Newark, New Jersey, where the Colgan flight originated. “It is shocking. It’s hard to believe that it is allowed to go on,” said Kathy Johnson, whose husband, Kevin, died in the crash. She said Wednesday she was furious that the crew may have been functioning on little sleep. “I wonder how many pilots, first officers, do the same thing that we are not aware of.” Watch family members question pilot training standards » Mark Rosenker, NTSB acting chairman, said the investigation shows airlines may have to toughen enforcement of their rules to improve air safety. “I am concerned about the winking and nodding I’ve seen in some of the policies of the company, your company, and crew members, and I don’t believe it’s only within your company,” Rosenker said. According to Harry Mitchel, Colgan vice president for operations, “We hire professionals, and those professionals we expect to show up fresh, ready to fly that aircraft.” Marty Agius, brother-in-law of one of the crash victims, said, “They are supposed to have their own accommodations but they can’t follow up on that and that’s totally ridiculous.” Continental Connection Flight 3407 went down February 12 in Clarence Center, New York, killing 49 on the plane and one man in a house hit by the plane. NTSB investigators have been questioning representatives of the flight operator, regional carrier Colgan Air, and manufacturers of the Bombardier aircraft, among others. No family members have been questioned, but they have been attending the hearings. The safety board’s preliminary investigation determined there was some ice accumulation on the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 aircraft, but that “icing had a minimal impact on the stall speed of the airplane.” Other shortcomings of the crew came to light on Wednesday when it was revealed that Renslow hid his background from Colgan by failing to reveal two pilot exam failures in his job application. And the crew violated another rule that requires cockpit conversation to be focused on the flight. At Tuesday’s hearing, Colgan Air acknowledged that Renslow never trained in a flight simulator on the “stick pusher” emergency system. But in a written statement, the carrier said both Renslow and Shaw had received other specific training about how to handle situations like those that preceded the crash. It said the company provides FAA-approved ground training and that “Captain Renslow and First Officer Shaw had thorough initial and recurrent training” on how to handle a stall.