February 12, 2019 07:09 AM
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Ten years ago, Colgan Air Flight 3407, a Continental Connection on its way from Newark to Buffalo, crashed just 20 minutes away from the Buffalo International Airport in Clarence Center.
All of the passengers and crew members on board were killed as was a man in the home where the plane crash-landed.
Since that day, families of the victims have been working tirelessly to try and make sure your family never feels the pain they do.
"She was the strongest one out of the three sisters. We were very, very close," says Ruthann Stilwell of her sister Mary Abraham.
Abraham was an Army Reserve sergeant, lover of people and rescuer of greyhounds.
"We did everything together, cruises together, shopping sprees, everything together but she would always be the one.... 'okay, this is it, we're going to do this,'" Stilwell remembers.
Abraham was on her way home from a business trip when her plane, Colgan Air flight 3407, operating as a Continental Connection, went down in Clarence Center.
Stilwell was in bed in her home in Webster when she was woken in the middle of the night.
"We went to bed early that night. I wasn't listening to the news. My sister got the phone call…she called me at two in the morning and said 'you need to come now, we think Mary was on that plane.' The whole time you sit there in the room you're like, no... everybody didn't die, there's probably survivors," she recalls.
Susan Bourque's sister was on the plane too.
Beverly Eckert was on her way home to Buffalo to award a scholarship in her husband's memory. He died on 9/11.
"She lost her husband Sean Rooney in the collapse of tower two. They were on the phone as the tower collapsed just saying 'I love you,'" Bourque says.
Both Bourque and Stilwell rushed to the crash scene but there were no survivors.
In their grief, the families of Flight 3407 banded together to try and gain every ounce of knowledge they could about how this crash happened.
The NTSB determined that pilot confusion and error led to the catastrophe.
Neither the pilot or the co-pilot noticed the plane's speed was dropping dangerously low.
When a warning indicated the plane was about to stall, instead of pushing the stick shaker forward to increase its speed, the pilot pulled it backward multiple times. The first officer, investigators determined, was likely too inexperienced to understand how she could have helped.
The FAA also determined that both the pilot and co-pilot had been inadequately trained and overworked.
"I kind of assumed that there were strict rules, inspections, and oversight of airlines, what they did and how they did it," Bourque says.
Bourque, Stilwell and other family members say they were shocked to learn of gaping holes in the FAA's safety regulations, particularly for regional airlines.
Over the past decade, they've been back and forth to Washington, D.C. pushing lawmakers to pass laws changing that.
"Twenty-six million people fly in the United States every single day and there hasn't been a crash in 10 years, that's pretty amazing," Stilwell says.
Before Flight 3407 went down, pilots and co-pilots needed 250 hours of flight experience. Now, they need 1,500.
Before Flight 3407, pilots were trained in emergency situations in a classroom. Now, they do it in a simulator.
Before the crash, airlines had to give pilots eight-hour breaks between shifts. Now, they're required to give 10 hours of rest including eight hours of uninterrupted sleep between shifts.
Stilwell proudly hangs a copy of the legislation that requires these changes for the big airlines, the regional carriers and the low-cost carriers in her dining room.
When asked what she thinks her sister would think about the changes she helped accomplish, she says, "I'm sure she's just... yahooing up there. Thanks, keep going... you're doing a great job!"
But the work isn't done.
The legislation also calls for a database of pilot records that would be searchable to airlines before hiring.
The pilot of Flight 3407 had three failed test flights earlier in his career, information that would have been accessible in this database had it been available then or even now.
In a statement, Les Dorr from the FAA says:
"Colgan Air Flight 3407 was a tragic accident, one that the FAA is doing everything it can to ensure it never happens again. We commend the Colgan Air families for their continued advocacy for aviation safety as a legacy to their loved ones. In the ten years since the accident – and with the help of the Colgan families – we have made significant progress across the industry in reducing pilot fatigue, improving pilot training, and raising crew qualifications to reduce or eliminate the types of errors that caused the accident.
The Pilot Records Database (PRD) automated system is currently in beta testing and can be used to retrieve Pilot Records Improvement Act records. The system is designed to let pilots give operators permission to view their records, and for operators to do so. PRD is designed to provide this service without human intervention. However, we have experienced issues with user registration, affecting both operators and pilots. If users successfully complete online registration, they can complete the transaction, but currently, approximately 20 percent of users are not able to register online. Our Information Technology office is examining this issue, including a software vendor change and an alternate registration process.
Developing the PRD is a major effort. Air carriers, specific operators holding out to the public, public aircraft operators, air tour operators, fractional ownerships, and corporate flight departments all would be required to enter relevant data on individuals employed as pilots into the PRD, making this data available electronically. All air carriers, fractional ownerships, and some other operators would be required to access the PRD and evaluate the available data for each individual pilot candidate prior to making a hiring decision."
Updated: February 12, 2019 07:09 AM
Created: February 11, 2019 06:31 PM
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