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Plane should have been grounded, first lawsuit claims

A California aviation attorney, in the first of dozens of lawsuits expected to be filed in the wake of the Flight 3407 crash, says the turboprop plane should never have been flying in icing conditions.

Lawyer Ronald L.M. Goldman says in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo on behalf of Cantor Susan A. Wehle of Temple Beth Am that preliminary findings lead him to believe that icing was probably the leading cause of the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400's crash.

"In aviation crashes, we rarely see a single event that leads to the tragedy," Goldman said in a telephone interview after he filed the suit. "And this is no different."

But he said the information released so far by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that icing began the series of circumstances that caused the plane to spin out of control Feb. 12 and kill all 49 on board, plus a resident of the house where it hit in Clarence Center.

"The tale here starts with the fact they should have never been flying a turboprop airplane into these icing conditions, equipped with these antiquated de-icing boots," he said. "This is 1920s, 1930s technology, which has not been brought up to date in any revolutionary way."

The pneumatic boots on the edge of the wings expand and cause the ice to shake
off, but NASA tests have shown the boots cannot clear all the ice, and there are no boots on the tail.

The next problem, Goldman said, is that the Colgan Air pilots continued flying the plane on autopilot, even as they noticed the ice building up.

"What this does is, it deprives the pilots of the information of the degradation of the airplane's performance," Goldman said, "because the autopilot automatically adjusts for it. So they don't know they are flying too close to the edge of a stall, at all."

The pilot next deployed the flaps as the plane prepared to land.

"When you do that, you change the configuration of the wing," Goldman said, "and my analysis at this point is, given the information we have, it probably went into an immediate stall."

He said the 1972 crash of a British European Airways flight showed that, in certain conditions, when the flaps come down and the configuration of the wings change, the plane goes into an immediate stall, and the pilot is often unable to recover.

Goldman said the airplane was apparently trying to correct itself by lowering the nose, and he said the plane's sudden jerking up to a 31-degree climb was probably a panic reaction by the captain.

"When the nose was shoved down," he said, "[the pilot] didn't understand why and followed a gut reaction rather than a trained reaction and yanked the nose way up into a super stall, causing it to spin and crash."

Goldman said he will refine his suit as more information is released from the NTSB and experts at his firm have a chance to analyze the data.

The attorney filed the suit in the name of Wehle's two sons, Jonah and Joshua Mink.

Wehle, 55, the cantor at Temple Beth Am for the past seven years, was returning from a vacation in Costa Rica. More than 1,000 people attended her funeral.

Listed as defendants are Continental Airlines, Pinnacle Airlines, Colgan Air and Bombardier Aerospace Corp., builder of the plane.


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