On February 12, 2009, a regional airline, Colgan Air, was responsible for the deaths of 50 people which included two pilots, two flight attendants, 45 passengers and one man in a house on the ground. This occurred in Clarence, New York, a suburb north of Buffalo, New York. Colgan Air was subcontracted by Continental Airlines to run Flight 3407. The flight originated in Newark, New Jersey.
Wintry weather conditions contributed to the crash with light snow, fog and winds at 17 miles per hour. It was determined that the plane had been flying on autopilot. The de-icing system had been turned on 11 minutes into the flight by the crew, who had discussed significant ice buildup on the aircraft’s wings and windscreen. Approximately 5 miles from the destination airport, the airplane began experiencing problems.
Other contributing factors in the crash were uncovered. Colgan did not know that the pilot had failed several flight tests before joining the airline; now a database of pilot records will be established to allow airlines to check such flight records. Neither the pilot nor the co-pilot had a full night’s rest before the fatal flight. The co-pilot had commuted from her home in Seattle to Buffalo without sufficient rest before beginning her flight on 3407.
In the weeks following the accident, a bond was formed among the victims’ family members who vowed to do everything in their power to learn the true causes of the accident and prevent future aviation accidents from occurring.
Afer a 17-month effort, the Families of Continental Flight 3407 were able to accomplish the passage of a bill that increases the minimum number of flight hours for beginning passenger airline pilots from 250 to 1,500 hours. In addition, the bill mandates simulator stall-recovery training that the crew of 3407 did not have. The House approved the bill shortly before midnight on July 29, 2010. The Senate also approved the bill on the following morning, earlier than anticipated, and the families were not there to witness the passage. The families got almost everything they wanted. The law is called the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. The safety measures apply to all airlines.
The FAA will now be required to draw up tougher rules aimed at controlling pilot fatigue. The families are dedicated to keeping the FAA on top of the new regulations. The FAA has long been criticized for its unresponsiveness to safety recommendations.
Victim Beverly Eckert was flying to Buffalo to launch a scholarship at Canisius High School to honor her husband Sean Rooney who had been killed in the World Trade Center tragedy.
Two members of Chuck Mangione’s jazz band, Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett, were on board Flight 3407. The musicians were scheduled to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on the evening of February 12, 2009.
Passage of the bill was a landmark moment for the families touched by Continental Flight 3407.
The Buffalo News, July 31 and August 1, 2010