Champions for Safety

By Debbie Hersman

Continental Connection Flight 3407 memorial plaqueOn February 12, 2009, a Colgan Air, Inc., plane operating as Continental Connection flight 3407, departed Newark airport en route to Buffalo, New York.  Approximately 5 miles from the airport, the regional jet tragically crashed into the Clarence Center neighborhood killing all 49 passengers and crew members on board, and 1 person on the ground.

In the wake of catastrophic transportation accidents, the families left behind are often the biggest champions for change.  Today the loved ones of those killed 5 years ago on Continental Connection 3407 will mark the anniversary with a candlelight vigil at the crash site – the same spot where they came together a few days after the accident and resolved to improve transportation safety.

Through our investigation, the NTSB determined that the accident was caused by the inappropriate responses and actions by the flight crew during flight.  Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during approaches in icing conditions contributed to the cause of the accident.  The NTSB’s investigation identified several additional safety issues and our recommendations focused on strategies to address flight crew monitoring failures, pilot professionalism, fatigue, remedial training, and pilot training records, just to name a few.  Twenty-five recommendations were made in order to prevent similar accidents.

Following the 2009 crash, the loved ones of many of the passengers killed in the accident launched a campaign to advocate for many safety issues identified in the NTSB’s investigation.  Their efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, which President Obama signed in August 2010.  The legislation mandated numerous improvements addressing pilot training, qualifications and fatigue and also included a provision designed to ensure that airline tickets clearly reflect which airline is actually operating each flight.  From this legislation, we have seen new regulations that address flight and duty time.  This past November, the FAA issued a new regulation requiring increased training, including simulator training on stalls, like the event encountered by the crew of Flight 3407.

Today, as the family members mark the five-year anniversary of the accident, their loss is still painful.  But their achievements are a testament to their continued love for those who perished.  We are grateful to these families who continue to be tireless champions for change.

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