The experience of the pilots of the prop jet involved in the worst U.S. plane crash in seven years came under fire again Wednesday — with airline officials in the hot seat about whether the pair operating Buffalo-bound Flight 3407 should have been in the cockpit.
Testimony resumed in the three-day public probe by the National Transportation and Safety Board into what caused the Continental Connection flight, operated by Colgan Air, to dive into a house on an icy February night moments before landing.
All 49 on board were killed, along with a man inside the home.
NTSB member Kitty Higgins said during testimony that the pilots' long commutes, pay levels and fatigue created "a recipe for an accident."
Transcripts of the flight's final moments reveal that pilot Marvin Renslow and first officer Rebecca Shaw were chatting about their careers and her lack of experience operating a plane in icy conditions, according to the cockpit voice recorder.
The two were engaged in the discussion even after they noticed the buildup of ice on the windshield of the Dash 8-Q400 Bombardier, a twin-engine turboprop.
Flight 3407 was approaching Buffalo Niagara International Airport the night of Feb. 12 when the prop jet experienced an aerodynamic stall.
The plane rolled back and forth, then plunged into a house in a fiery crash, killing everyone aboard and one man on the ground.
Federal investigators hammered Colgan Air executives about the pay of their pilots — in 24-year-old Shaw's case, she made between $16,000 and $20,000 a year, according to testimony — as well as whether they were discouraged from getting second jobs and felt pressure by the company not to call in sick.
Pilot fatigue also is being examined as a factor in the Flight 3407 crash.
The night before the accident, Shaw flew overnight as a passenger from Seattle to Memphis —where she rested in a crew lounge — before flying to Newark to report to work, according to testimony. Shaw also complained about congestion and may have been suffering from a cold.
"That looks like a 36-hour clock to me," Higgins said. "It sounds pretty horrible to me."
"Fatigue is a huge factor...While her duty may have started at one time, her commuting time added to that," she said.
Fatigue and illness impacts the "professionalism" of crew members, who should come to work "fresh" or they "should not be flying the aircraft," a Colgan Air official said during testimony.
Click here for the entire docket for the NTSB hearings on the crash.
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Officials for Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va., which operated the flight for Continental, also acknowledged in response to questions from board members that Renslow and Shaw weren't paying close attention to the plane's instruments and were surprised by a stall warning.
Nor did they follow the airline's procedures for responding to a stall.
Further testimony and documents also showed that Renslow had failed several training tests before and after being hired by Colgan in 2005. He had been certified to fly the Dash-8 plane for about three months.
Paul Pryor, Colgan's head of pilot training, acknowledged that Renslow didn't have any hands-on training on the Dash 8's stick pusher — a key safety system that automatically kicks on in response to a stall — although he had received hands-on stick pusher training on a smaller plane that he previously flew.