Readers Write In on Continental Express Crash: Pilot Actions Could Have Been Warranted

Thanks for your feedback on the news concerning Southwest’s move into Boston. I’ll strip off names and summarize comments I’ve received via email later today.

But first — let’s talk about what has been going on of late concerning the NTSB and their investigation concerning the actions of the pilot in the crash of Pinnacle/Colgan/Continental Express Flight 3407 last week.

If you are like me, you probably did a double take when you read the the Wall Street Journal article yesterday in which the paper reported that “evidence suggests pilot error” as the likely cause of the crash. The New York Times then ran with a story that said that the “crew may have overreacted” after the auto pilot system pointed the plane’s nose down to generate speed. No sources were named in either paper’s reports.

While officially the NTSB has not publicly made such comments, the assumption would have to be made that someone on the inside of the investigation was feeding both news sources.

Enter a number of our pilot readers.

Here is a “Read Before Fly” announcement that was sent to Southwest Airlines’ pilots yesterday. Sound familiar?

Last night more than one pilot sent me a copy. And they weren’t all Southwest pilots. Apparently the notice was posted on the PPRUNE site, or at least that is what one American Airlines‘ pilot wrote me.


Safety Alert 2009-01 – February 18, 2009

There is a potentially significant hazard concerning the ILS to runway 23 in BUF.

Information has been received indicating it is possible to obtain a significant nose pitch up, in some cases as much as 30 degrees, if the glide slope is allowed to capture before established on centerline. Pilots who are preparing to configure and land have the potential to experience abrupt pitch up, slow airspeed, and approach to stall if conditions present themselves in a certain manner.

This effect is the result of an earthen obstruction close enough to the ILS to affect the integrity of the glide slope signal. This has resulted in the issuance of an advisory given on ATIS which states that “the ILS Glide Slope for runway 23 is unusable beyond 5 degrees right of course.” When attempting to intercept the runway 23 ILS from right traffic, the ILS glide slope indication may read full deflection down. Just prior to intercept it may then move up in such as manner as to enable approach mode to capture in such a way as to result in a nose up pitch and loss of airspeed. Southwest Airlines has issued a notice reading: “Until further notice, when executing the KBUF ILS/LOC Runway 23, DO NOT select Approach Mode until established on the localizer inbound.”

This issue is being addressed on several levels in an attempt to address procedures, facilities, and communication regarding this matter. If you experience any issues related to this, please file an ASAP form and or call SWAPA Safety at SWAPA toll free 800-969-7972.


Interesting, eh? Especially because if this is the case, then the pilot could have been doing exactly what he was supposed to have been doing. He was trying to save the aircraft, not stall it. My point in all of this is that no one involved with the NTSB investigation should be “leaking” information to news sources such as that which was obviously leaked for publication in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Wednesday. Especially given this advisory that was just issued to Southwest Airlines’ pilots.