The flight crew was blameless for this crash and everyone investigating the crash knows it. It’s just easier to blame the dead crew than to blame the manufacturer who failed to equip this airliner with modern anti-ice equipment. The airplane suffered a tail stall as soon as the flaps 15 setting was selected and the crew did what they were taught – they reversed the procedure and retracted the flaps.
The captain, in spite of the hideous criticism for having nonessential conversations below 10,000 feet, was otherwise professional and all required briefings were carried out.
The aircraft pitch up and airspeed loss has occurred dozens of times in Cessna Caravans just before control is lost in ice. It is a pitch up when the tail loses its ability to provide required down force due to ice contamination. The airspeed bleeds off rapidly and the stick shaker and pusher react. The crew knows that the standard recovery of lowering the nose won’t work so they pull back like they were taught. Lateral control is then lost, followed by pitch control as well.
This aircraft was never certified to fly in freezing drizzle or rain and the crew, like every other airline crew, was misled into believing it was. No one is told that if the conditions are anything other than moderate – clear or rime – the airplane cannot fly. The use of outdated rubber boots, which allow the ice to accumulate before activation, aggravates the situation and just leads to trouble.
It is true that the captain was not the world’s best pilot and the first officer was a kid. Their training stunk and their non-pertinent discussions below 10,000 feet demonstrated poor judgment. However, the transcript from the cockpit voice recorder, read in context, reveals that nothing in their past or their conduct on that flight caused this accident.
No one should confuse legal liability for a crash with blame placed by investigating authorities. Legal responsibility belongs to Continental, Colgan, Pinnacle, and Bombardier and they will pay for all the losses. Blaming this crew is a hideous attempt to hide the truth. Airplanes with deicing boots no longer have a place in commercial aviation.
Arthur Alan Wolk
May 12, 2009