The plane that went down in bear Buffalo, NY Thursday was new with a good safety record. It had on board a very sophisticated flight data recorder, which, along with the cockpit voice recorder, has already revealed that the flight crew was concerned about the weather, and that they had ice build-up on the wings and windshield.
If icing turns out to be the culprit, that crash will be remarkably similar to the crash of American Eagle 4184 fourteen years ago.
Flight 3407 was about five miles short of the Buffalo-Niagara airport when, witnesses say, it sounded like the engines sputtered. The twin-engine Turbo-prop then apparently went into a nose dive, crashing into a home in Clarence, New York, and exploding in a ball of fire.
All 49 aboard the plane, and one person in the house, died instantly.
There was no Mayday call from the flight crew after 3407 had been cleared to descend to 2300 feet. An aerial view reveals a fairly small crash site, which suggests the aircraft hit at a steep angle.
"When I heard steep angle, I think that's a stall. That could be a stall condition because when you stall an aircraft, it wants to drop out very quickly, and at low altitudes, the reaction time is very limited," said pilot Doug Willey.
Shortly after the crash, two pilots in the area reported picking up ice on their wings. That will clearly be a focus of investigators as they look for a probable cause to the Thursday's crash. From the tail of the aircraft, investigators were able to retrieve the flight data and voice box recorders which were flown to NTSB headquarters in Washington Friday for analysis. They have already revealed significant information.
"The crew discussed significant ice build-up on the windshield and wings," said NTSB's Steve Chealander.
The data recorder shows that when the landing gear was lowered and flaps set for landing, the aircraft started to pitch and roll severely. It crashed a minute later.
The plane that went down is a Bombardier twin-engine turbo-prop. It has deicing boots on its wings. When they are inflated, any ice build-up is broken off.
If ice emerges as a suspect, the crash of 3407 will have distinct parallels to the crash of American Eagle flight 4184 in Roselawn, Indiana 14 years ago. That plane was also a twin-engine turbo-prop with wing deicing boots. Halloween afternoon of 1994, during freezing rain, it was put in a holding pattern for O'Hare. A build-up of ice behind the deicing boots caused the plane to roll into a dive from which the pilots could not recover.
All 68 people aboard 4184 were killed. The NTSB concluded that the French manufacturer of the ATR aircraft should have known it was susceptible to ice build-up on the wings.
The type of aircraft that went down outside Buffalo, the Bombardier q400 series, is certified to fly in the type of weather it was in Thursday night.