Share this article

print logo

Colgan deception issue extends to 2009 probe No doubts on pilot, investigators told

Just like his boss, the then-chief pilot of Colgan Air appears to have misled federal investigators about his role in promoting Capt. Marvin D. Renslow, the pilot who crashed Continental Connection Flight 3407 into a Clarence Center home in February 2009.

In an interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators about a month after the crash, Bill Honan said: "I don't have anything in [Renslow's] file that would signify anything significant in his recent history."

As a result, "there weren't any issues I saw with him transitioning" to the more sophisticated Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, Honan added.

But in an Aug. 26, 2008, email, Honan said to colleagues: "Yes you are correct Rensloe [sic] had a problem upgrading."

A day later, after being told by his boss that a pilot with a record such as Renslow's should not be flying the Q400, Honan said: "He is already off the list."

Nevertheless, Colgan subsequently added Renslow to its fall 2008 training class for Q400 pilots.

A few months later, Renslow and the co-pilot inadvertently let Flight 3407 slow down inappropriately. Then Renslow reacted the wrong way to a stall warning and crashed the plane, federal investigators found.

The contradictions between the newly disclosed emails and Honan's statements to investigators make Honan the second Colgan official who appeared to have misled investigators.

Harry Mitchel, then Colgan's vice president of flight operations and Honan's boss, said under oath in 2009 that Renslow "had 16 months of a very fine track record" -- even though Mitchel had said in an email only nine months earlier: "Anyone that does not meet the mins and had problems in training before is not ready to tackle the Q. "

The new revelations about Honan added new fuel to the calls from lawyers, lawmakers and the Families of Continental Flight 3407 to take another look at how and why Flight 3407 crashed, claiming 50 lives.

"What I see is high-level executives more concerned with covering up their own intimate involvement than with revealing the truth," said Hugh M. Russ III, a lawyer for several of the Flight 3407 families.

In a statement, Colgan acknowledged not disclosing the emails during the crash investigation but said that it provided investigators with the information contained in the emails.

The email exchange refers to a failed check ride that Renslow had a year earlier while upgrading from Saab 340 first officer to captain, Colgan said.

After that and before moving to the Q400, "Renslow underwent additional training, successfully upgraded to Saab captain and received his FAA type rating from an FAA-designated examiner," the statement said.

"He was qualified to begin his transition training into the Q400 aircraft, but the email exchange shows Colgan's chief pilot required Renslow to pass his next scheduled check flight before being allowed to begin transition training into the Q400."

The safety board was aware of that check flight, Colgan said.

"To suggest otherwise is patently false and represents a clear attempt by plaintiffs' attorneys to try their cases against the company in the media," the statement said.

The Colgan statement never explains why the company did not disclose the emails to the safety board.

Unlike Mitchel's testimony during public hearings before the safety board in May 2009, Honan's interview with investigators was not done under oath.

Honan told safety board investigators that he talked with other Colgan officials "just for crew records" about Renslow.

"I can't recall speaking to anyone else about his training record," he said -- without noting that he was part of a chain of emails in which Colgan executives discussed Renslow.

Hearing all of that, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said: "It sure seems directly contradictory on its face."

Schumer asked Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, to hold a hearing to examine the implications of the newly revealed Colgan emails, which surfaced last week in federal court in Buffalo as part of a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo area's three House members sent a letter to the safety board asking about the implications of the newly revealed emails, as well as a letter to Colgan and Pinnacle Airlines, Colgan's parent, demanding an explanation of why the emails were withheld until now.

Colgan was supposed to turn the emails over to the safety board.

Parties to crash investigations are required to sign a statement that says: "No information pertaining to the accident, or in any manner relevant to the investigation, may be withheld from the NTSB by any party or party participant."

Perhaps most importantly, the emails open a new mystery: Why did Colgan add Renslow to its fall 2008 training class for the Q400 after initially rejecting him?

"That's something that surely merits further investigation," said Kevin Kuwik, one of the leading members of the Families of Continental Flight 3407.

The new revelation also brings up another important question, he added.

When Colgan officials raised their right hand and swore to tell the truth at the safety board's May 2009 NTSB hearings, "was that just some little Cub Scout thing?" Kuwik asked.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment