Investigators focus on pilot competency in Buffalo plane crash
Serious questions have arisen about the competency and training of the pilot who was in charge of flying the Colgan Air commuter plane when it crashed last February in Buffalo, New York. The crash claimed the lives of all 49 people aboard and one person on the ground. Investigators will announce their findings tomorrow in the case.
Transcripts of the cockpit conversation revealed that Captain Marvin Renslow and first officer Rebecca Shaw were likely not adequately trained and experienced to handle the particular flying conditions they faced. Moreover, the crew may have violated the cockpit rule of refraining from “irrelevant chatter” below 10,000 feet altitude. By following that rule, pilots bring their full attention to flying the airplane.
Renslow and Shaw were discussing their careers when things started to go awry in the cockpit.
According to the transcript, Shaw was telling Renslow about her trepidation of flying in icy conditions less than 5 minutes before the crash. “I’ve never seen icing conditions. I’ve never deiced. I’ve never experienced any of that. I don’t want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I’d have freaked out. I’d have like seen this much ice and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we were going to crash,’” Shaw said.
“Oh yeah, that’s the most I’ve seen … most ice I’ve seen on the leading edges in a long time. In a while anyway, I should say,” Renslow replied.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary that you have simulator training in that type of emergency,” said Barr, who is with the University of Southern California’s aviation safety program. “You can’t expect the pilot to react in a very, very emergency situation if he hasn’t had actual hands-on training in a simulator.”
In March, the National Transportation Safety Board shifted its investigative efforts from the weather and ice as likely causes of the crash. The NTSB then focused on the pilots’ training and experience as likely reasons for the crash.
Data from the flight recorder indicates that the plane was flying dangerously slow just prior to the crash. If a plane moves too slowly, it can lose the airflow or lift over the top of the wing, causing the plane to stall. When the alarm sounded, autopilot pointed the plane’s nose down in an effort to gain speed. However, Renslow countered the autopilot by pulling his column sharply backward, which pitched the airplane’s nose upward. The maneuver baffled investigators as it is the opposite of the action pilots should take in a stall situation.
A look at Renslow’s record showed that the pilot failed 5 flight tests, two of which tested flying skills and judgment, while Renslow was employed by Colgan Air. He failed the other three tests while working to become a licensed pilot.
Investigators are also looking into whether scheduling and fatigue could have played a role in the poor decisions made in the cockpit. Colgan Air defends its pilots and their work experience.