WASHINGTON — After three days of testimony about pilot fatigue, failed flying tests and cockpit warning systems, the uncle of a victim of crashed Flight 3407 summed up his frustration: "No one had to die. The behavior was beyond unprofessional."
"This didn't have to happen. That's what came out of this," said Terry Stelley, uncle of Coleman Mellett, 34, a passenger on the doomed flight. Stelley watched a webcast of the National Transportation Safety Board's three-day hearing, from Cheektowaga, N.Y.
The board hasn't reached a formal conclusion about what caused the worst U.S. air crash in more than seven years — it's investigation isn't complete — but the hearing that concluded Thursday exposed a slew of safety concerns on pilot training, hiring, pay and fatigue.
Continental Connection Flight 3407 's captain, Marvin Renslow, of Lutz and copilot, Rebecca Shaw, apparently didn't realize they were traveling at dangerously low speeds as the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400, a twin-engine turboprop, neared Buffalo Niagara International Airport of Feb. 12. The plane stalled and plunged into a house, killing all 49 aboard and one on the ground.
Board member Debbie Hersman on Thursday raised the issue of a low air speed warning system in questioning NASA scientist Robert Dismukes, an expert on cockpit distractions. The plane lost more than 55 mph of airspeed in 20 seconds while Renslow, 47, and Shaw, 24, chatted about careers and her lack of experience flying in icy conditions, she noted.
Dismukes agreed that the cockpit voice recorder shows the two were distracted, not realizing their danger until the stick shaker, a stall warning system that violently shakes the pilot's control column, went off.
Asked by Hersman if pilots might benefit from an earlier, audible low-speed warning system, Dismukes said: "Absolutely, you want a very distinctive alert, but not one that is so dramatic. That's well worth looking at."
Hersman said the stick shaker warning came too late and was too sudden.