Monday, May 11, 2009

May 11, 2009, 9:32 AM ET
Captain’s Training Faulted In Buffalo Crash That Killed 50

By WSJ Staff
The captain of a commuter plane that crashed Feb. 12 near Buffalo, N.Y., had flunked numerous flight tests during his career and was never adequately taught how to respond to the emergency that led to the airplane’s fatal descent, according to people close to the investigation, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Reporter Andy Pasztor writes:
All 49 people aboard were killed, as well as one person in a house below, when the plane crashed just a few miles short of the Buffalo airport en route from Newark, N.J. The Bombardier Q400 turboprop in the crash, which will be the subject of a National Transportation Safety Board hearing Tuesday, was operated by commuter carrier Colgan Air Inc., a division of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.

Capt. Marvin Renslow had never been properly trained by the company to respond to a warning system designed to prevent the plane from going into a stall, according to people familiar with the investigation. As the speed slowed to a dangerous level, setting off the stall-prevention system, he did the opposite of the proper procedure, which led to the crash, these people said.
Additionally, his 24-year-old co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw, had complained before takeoff about being congested and said she probably should have called in sick, according to people who have listened to the cockpit voice recording.

The circumstances surrounding Continental Connection Flight 3407 have prompted investigators and regulators to examine Colgan’s hiring and training practices. At the NTSB hearing, witnesses are expected to provide new allegations about training shortcomings, as well as the prevalence of chronic pilot fatigue and lapses in cockpit discipline. The NTSB also is expected to be critical of the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of the airline. The FAA, which has said it is investigating the airline over pilot scheduling, declined to comment on issues likely to be raised the hearing.

Pinnacle has said its pilot training programs “meet or exceed regulatory requirements for all major airlines” and crews “are prepared to handle emergency situations they might face.” On Sunday, spokesman Joe Williams confirmed in an email that Capt. Renslow had five “unsatisfactory” training check rides in his career — including two at Colgan — but passed a subsequent series of training tests and was “fully qualified in the Q400″ aircraft.

In recent weeks, Colgan’s top two training officials resigned; Mr. Williams has said their decisions were voluntary and not connected to the accident. Darrell Mitchell, Colgan’s departing director of training, is slated to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, the NTSB will open its public docket on the Colgan accident. Readers will be able to download the file, which includes reports, interview transcripts, cockpit voice recorder transcripts, flight data recorder information and other documents, once the hearing gets underway.

An agenda for the three-day hearing is available here.

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