Cases

Continental Connection, Colgan Air Flight 3407

  • Location: Buffalo, New York
  • Date: February 9, 2009
  • Aircraft: Bombardier Dash 8 Q400
The Motley Rice aviation team represented families of people who lost their lives in the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, and investigated the legal responsibility that Continental Airlines, Inc., Colgan Air, Inc., Pinnacle Airlines and aircraft manufacturer Bombardier may have had to the families.

About the Colgan Air 3407 Crash

On Feb. 19, 2009, at approximately 10:20 p.m. (EST), Colgan Air Flight 3407 en route from Newark, NJ, crashed into a home in the Clarence suburb of Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 aboard and one person on the ground. The plane, operating as a Continental Connection flight, fell off radar at about 10:17 p.m. just prior to its scheduled landing at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. There were no signs of distress in communications between air traffic control and the flight crew prior to the crash.

On Feb. 24, 2009, Motley Rice, representing Gail Dunham, the Executive Director of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation (NADA/F) in her personal capacity, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to compel an end to 15-year delays on regulatory changes as recommended by the NTSB. The lawsuit targeted neglected action items from the NTSB regarding runway safety as well as flight in icing conditions under investigation in the Flight 3407 crash. In August 2009, the FAA published a Final Rule for Activation of Ice Protection and NADA/F withdrew the lawsuit.

Investigation and Cause Theories

Investigators surmised that icing on the aircraft was likely a key contributing factor, with weather reports indicating icy conditions of light snow and sleet at the time of the crash.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), “the probable cause of the accident was the captain’s inappropriate response to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the airplane did not recover.” Contributing factors included:

  • Failure by the flight crew to monitor air speed
  • The flight crew’s failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures
  • The captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight
  • Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during an approach in icing conditions

The details of the Colgan Air crash are strikingly similar to the fatal crash of another turbo prop plane, Comair Flight 3272, which occurred in Detroit, Michigan, on January 9, 1997. The NTSB later identified the cause of the Comair Flight 3272 crash as a failure to meet operating standards in icing conditions.

For more on the dangers of aircraft icing:

As part of its restructuring plan, Pinnacle Airlines Corp., the parent company of Colgan Air, ended the flying of Colgan Air as of Sept. 5, 2012.

Our Experience in Similar Aviation Cases

Motley Rice attorney Fidelma Fitzpatrick (NY, DC, MA, RI) and aviation attorney and former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo (DC, MD, MO, SC) lead the Colgan 3407 plane crash litigation. Fitzpatrick, a native of Buffalo, New York, represented families of plane crash victims in the TAM Airlines Flight 3054 crash case, litigating against multiple corporate defendants.

About Aviation Attorney Mary Schiavo

Motley Rice aviation attorneys have litigated against Colgan Air, Inc. and Pinnacle Airlines as well as the manufacturer, Bombardier. After her tenure as Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, Motley Rice attorney Mary Schiavo served as an expert witness in the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184, a twin turbo prop plane which crashed in similar conditions in Roselawn, Illinois, in October 1994. Additionally, Mary Schiavo wrote the introduction to In the Wake of the Storm, a book authored by the sister of a victim of Flight 4184 that addresses the aftermath of the airline disaster.

Colgan Air Flight 3407 Case History

August 1, 2010
Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration adopt the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. According to Jeffrey Guzzetti, Assistant Inspector General for Aviation and Special Program Audits, “The February 12, 2009, crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 highlighted the need for improvements in pilot training, hiring and qualification programs, and ensuring consistent safety standards between carriers . . . . Effectively implementing the Act’s requirements is key to improving safety in commercial airline travel by raising standards in pilot training and performance, as well as advancing voluntary programs that yield critical safety information.”

February 2, 2010
The National Transportation Safety Board officially adopts the aircraft accident report for Colgan Air, Inc. operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407.

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