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Pilot in Buffalo crash didn't disclose two failed flight tests, airline testifies

WASHINGTON — Capt. Marvin Renslow of Lutz didn't disclose two failed flight tests when he applied for a job with commuter airline Colgan Air.

If the airline had found out, an executive says, he would have been fired. But Colgan never checked his flying record.

No agency required it.

The second of three days of testimony for the National Transportation Safety Board on the fatal crash of a plane he was piloting Feb. 12 brought sharp attention to the airline's hiring practices, low pay and long commutes.

Renslow and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw apparently made a series of critical errors as Continental Connection Flight 3407 approached Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The twin-engine turboprop stalled, rolling back and forth before plunging into a house below. All 49 people aboard and one on the ground were killed in the worst U.S. air crash in seven years.

Renslow, 47, earned an aviation degree from Guilford Technical Community College near Greensboro, N.C., in 1992, but didn't work as a pilot. In 2003, he enrolled in Gulfstream Training Academy in Fort Lauderdale. For about $25,000, he and fellow students trained on a 19-seat Beech 1900 turboprop, then received 250 hours flying passengers as a first officer for Gulfstream International Airlines around Florida and the Bahamas.

In response to a Colgan Air application question in 2005, Renslow wrote that he had failed a Federal Aviation Administration check ride in 1991 for a general aviation instrument rating. He missed a landing approach, received additional training and passed three weeks later.

He was hired at Colgan as a first officer for less than $19,000 a year and flew 36-seat Saab turboprops around Texas.

But Renslow had failed to mention more recent failures. In 2002, he was "disapproved'' for a single-engine commercial pilot certificate. His takeoffs, landings, go-arounds and performance maneuvers were substandard. Renslow passed a follow-on check flight the following month.

In April 2005, he failed his first flight test to fly commercial multi-engine aircraft. Renslow earned the certificate after a second flight test three weeks later.

After Renslow was hired in 2005 by Colgan, he was disapproved for his initial airline pilot license on the 34-seat Saab 340 and failed a check ride in 2007. He passed both tests on second tries the same month.

Mary Finnigan, Colgan's vice president of administration testified to the NTSB on Wednesday that Renslow's failure to include two flight test failures on his application would not have been tolerated — if it had been discovered.

"If we had known when Capt. Renslow was in training that he left off two failed test rides, he'd have been dismissed," she said.

She later wavered and said two undisclosed failures would trigger a review with the company's human relations department "to see if we'd hire or not hire." The airline has no policy about checking flying records of applicants.

Board members criticized Colgan officials for not performing checks on applicants' flying records.

Board member Robert Sumwalt asked Finnigan why Colgan performs checks of criminal backgrounds and even traffic records of applicants. Because it's required by federal agencies, she replied. Flight records checks are not required and most carriers don't do them, she said.

"Whose name is on the side of the airplane?" Sumwalt asked. "Don't you feel you have a responsibility to check even if it's not required?"

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

'Recipe for
an accident'

Investigators focused Wednesday on whether the Flight 3407 pilots were fatigued on the wintry night of Feb. 12 when they apparently made a series of critical errors. "When you put together the commuting patterns, the pay levels, the fact that the crew rooms aren't supposed to be used (for sleeping) but are being used — I think it's a recipe for an accident, and that's what we have here," NTSB member Kitty Higgins said.

Capt. Marvin
Renslow, 47

Home: Lutz

Pay: Around $55,000 a year

Before the flight: Commuted to Newark. It is unclear where Renslow, who was in the middle of a two-day assignment, slept the night before the trip, but he logged into a computer from Colgan's crew room in Newark at 3 a.m. the night before, according to NTSB documents. Neither pilot had a "crash pad" or apartment they shared with other pilots in the New York area, nor did they rent a hotel room, documents said.

First Officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24

Home: Seattle

Pay: $16,254 a year

Before the flight: Flew overnight as a passenger from Seattle, where she lived with her parents. She changed planes in Memphis to report to work at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. She complained about congestion and may have been suffering from a cold. Board members said Shaw frequently slept overnight in the busy crew room, equipped with couches and a big screen TV, in violation of company policy. She joked with other crew members that the room had a couch with her name on it.

Associated Press

Pilot in Buffalo crash didn't disclose two failed flight tests, airline testifies 05/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 4:53pm]
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