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Safety board refuses to reopen Flight 3407 investigation

WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board has refused a lawyer’s request to reopen its investigation into the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air’s Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence, saying that doing so would not shed any more light into how the accident happened.

“It is unlikely that any additional information provided now ... when considered along with the information originally obtained from the 43 FAA and Colgan Air employees and the other information contained in the public docket for this investigation, would result in additional findings or change to the probable cause,” the NTSB said this week in a letter to Buffalo attorney Hugh M. Russ III.

Russ, who represented the families of several crash victims, asked the safety agency to reopen its investigation in light of a June 2013 Buffalo News story. In that story, Dan Morgan, Colgan’s former vice president of safety and compliance at the regional airline, noted that the Federal Aviation Administration had warned the regional airline about serious safety concerns six months before the crash near Buffalo.

That warning from Nick Scarpinato, director of the FAA’s flight standards office in Herndon, Va., never came to light during the Safety Board’s investigation of the crash.

Russ asked the safety board to reopen the probe to take testimony from both Morgan and Scarpinato, but in a unanimous ruling, the NTSB refused to do that – even while admitting that “Mr. Morgan’s opinions about Colgan Air’s safety culture appear to have changed significantly between 2009 and 2013.”

Morgan testified in 2009 that Colgan’s safety culture was “very, very good,” only to tell The News four years later that Colgan was a “shoestring operation.” Morgan could not be reached to comment this week on the NTSB’s comment about his change of heart.

“Because so much time has passed since the investigation was completed, the validity of any additional information provided now by Mr. Morgan or Mr. Scarpinato would be questionable,” the safety board said in its letter to Russ.

Besides, the safety board said it had already conducted a thorough investigation, which blamed the crash – which claimed 50 lives – on pilot error.

Russ said he wasn’t surprised that the NTSB had refused his request to reopen the investigation, although he was surprised that it took two years for that to happen.

“Why now?” he asked. “It would have been easier for them to let it die on the vine.”

It’s possible, Russ added, that the agency waited to respond until the civil lawsuits stemming from the crash were resolved. The last such lawsuit was settled last October.