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Pilot Error Suspected in Flight 3407 Buffalo Crash

FEBRUARY 16, 2009 – In sharp contrast to the actions of pilot Chesley Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles during the “Miracle on the Hudson” crash landing of US Airways flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, the pilots for Continental Connection Flight 3407 are suspected of contributing to the February 12, 2009 crash that killed 50 people in Buffalo, New York.

The black box recording showed that the pilots were aware of “significant” ice buildup on the plane. According to the NTSB, the pilot may have violated federal safety recommendations and the airplane’s own flight manual by not turning off the autopilot in “severe” icy conditions, and also may have overcompensated when the autopilot automatically switched off. The plane crashed two to three minutes short of its destination, Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Lopez McHugh attorneys are very familiar with aviation litigation. The FAA and the NTSB battled over icing safety during the 1990s, when NTSB investigators pushed for more stringent standards but the FAA believed protections against airplane icing were sufficient. Last year the NTSB issued a safety alert warning that autopilot systems can mask handling problems associated with icing, and urged pilots to fly manually to get a better sense of their plane’s performance; however, this is only a recommendation that does not carry the force of legal authority. The NTSB is seeking tighter federal regulations to require pilots to disengage autopilot systems in icy weather. A USA Today article on lingering aviation safety issues can be found here.