Colgan incident at Burlington probed as part of Buffalo crash investigation

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(Host) A regional airline that’s being investigated for a deadly accident in Buffalo this winter also operates four flights out of Burlington.

And an incident in March involving a Colgan Air flight in Vermont is part of the probe into the Buffalo crash.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Colgan flies four flights a day from Newark to Burlington for Continental Connection.

And on the evening of March 10th, a Colgan turbo prop was making an approach to the Burlington airport when the flight crew learned that the plane could be in trouble.

An alarm went off to alert the pilots that the airplane was dangerously close to stalling, a condition that can lead to a crash. A stall occurs from a combination of low air speed and wings that aren’t at the right angle for lift. 

On the approach into Burlington, the control stick of the aircraft began shaking vigorously. It’s an automatic alarm that warns the pilot a stall is imminent. A report on the incident shows that the captain quickly increased the aircraft speed and the flight landed normally.

But the Burlington incident is now under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

That’s because the conditions were similar during an accident near Buffalo a month earlier that killed all 49 people aboard and one person on the ground.

Keith Holloway is a spokesman for the NTSB.

(Holloway) "It may give us some information as to the movement of the stick shaker and the activation of the stick shaker during an approach in similar conditions to the Colgan Air accident that occurred near Buffalo."

(Dillon) The weather was similar for both flights – it was cloudy with the potential for ice to build up on the wings – and the pilots were flying the same type of aircraft – a Bombardier Dash Q400.

The crew on the Burlington flight responded properly to the stall warning by adding power to the engines. On the flight to Buffalo, the crew apparently did not.

Holloway says investigators may learn more about what went wrong in Buffalo by studying the Burlington incident.

(Holloway) "We know that the airplane landed without incident so we’re continuing to look into that incident to find out exactly what occurred."

(Dillon) But there’s still the question of why the stall warning was activated on the Burlington flight.

Interviews with the flight crew conducted by the N-T-S-B indicate that slow air speed may have been a factor.

A crew member on the flight said the plane did not actually stall. The crew member was on board to observe the captain’s performance. He reported that the captain reacted quickly when the stick shaker was activated. He said the captain increased power and corrected the situation. The entire incident was over in under a minute.

Another member of the flight crew interviewed by the N-T-S-B said the pilot executed — quote – "a textbook recovery."

Airport manager Brian Searles says the flying public should not be concerned.

(Searles) "No, I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. The National Transportation Safety Board is a very thorough regulatory agency that does great investigations. At the end of the process I’m sure that they’ll know what happened. They’ll share it with the public and if any changes need to happen either with the regulatory function or with any particular airline I’m sure that they will insist on them."

(Dillon) Colgan Air officials did not respond to requests for interviews.

The NTSB report says that the Burlington flight was fully booked with passengers. But it’s not clear if anyone knew that something had gone wrong in the cockpit.


For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier

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