WASHINGTON, D.C. - After new evidence surfaced showing the pilot involved in the crash of Flight 3407 may not have been ready to fly, Senator Charles Schumer Tuesday called for a Senate Aviation Committee Safety hearing into the matter.
"In the years and months following the crash, the NTSB has worked tirelessly to get to the bottom of the crash and its causes," said NY's senior Senator. "However, the fact that relevant emails were not shared with investigators compels us to take a closer look at how we investigate crashes to make sure NTSB has the best information possible when making critical safety recommendations."
Schumer is calling on Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Chairwoman Maria Cantwell to hold a hearing to evaluate progress implementing aviation safety reforms and to examine the implications of the newly released e-mails that were not available during the initial crash investigation.
"This set of e-mails really is a smoking gun," remarked Attorney Hugh Russ, while reviewing documents at the downtown offices of the Hodgson Russ law firm.
The firm represents 11 of the families of the victims Colgan Air flight 3407, which crashed in Clarence Center in February of 2009, killing 50 people.
Russ shared with WGRZ-TV a chain of e-mails from late August of 2008, sent between top management at Colgan, discussing the qualifications of their pilots to fly their newly acquired Q-400 aircraft.
The pilots discussed in those e-mail exchanges included Capt. Marvin Renslow, who was piloting the ill fated Q-400 on flight 3407 less than six months later.
One, from a Colgan Senior Manager Dot Chaplin, states: "You might want to check the training records. There is something in the back of my mind about Rensloe (sic) "
In a responding e-mail, Colgan's Chief Pilot, Bill Honan wrote: "You are correct Rensloe (sic) had a problem upgrading".
Colgan's Vice President of Operations Harry Mitchell then weighs in, stating: "anyone that does not meet the minimums and had problems training before is not ready top handle the Q...."
To which Chief Pilot Honan replies, "he is already off the list".
WEB EXTRA: Click here to read the emails.
"These e-mails prove that just months before the crash, Colgan evaluated whether Marvin Renslow was qualified to fly this plane, and they determined he was not qualified because he did not have enough experience, he had problems training, and had failed his tests," said Russ. "They determined in August of 2008 not to promote him to this plane, and just a month or so later, they reversed course and promoted him," Russ said.
Jennifer West who lost her husband Ernie in the crash says "To me this just proves that they are wrong and it is all their fault." She adds "You can't put a price tag on a life. I mean you just can't. And I would like all of them to see if they would have put their loved ones in that cockpit...in the plane with him in that cockpit."
In a statement e-mailed to 2 On Your Side, Joe Williams, Director of Corporate Communications for Pinnacle Airlines (Colgan's parent company) stated:
• Captain Renslow was properly trained, certified and qualified under all applicable federal aviation regulations to act as Pilot-In-Command of a Q400 aircraft. At the time Captain Renslow put in his request to be transitioned from a Saab 340 aircraft Captain to Q400 Captain in August 2008, he had three successful checking events dating back to October 2007. However, Colgan's Chief Pilot required that Captain Renslow successfully pass another proficiency check before being allowed to begin transition training. He then successfully completed Colgan's FAA-approved Q400 training program, was issued a Q400 type rating by an FAA-designated examiner, and successfully completed over 20 hours of transition operating experience in the Q400 with a Colgan Q400 check airman, all without any training deficiencies or problems noted.
• As part of the discovery process, Colgan has provided over 400,000 pages of documents to the plaintiffs, including these emails, three months ago - well before depositions of the people involved in the email exchange. The plaintiffs asked Colgan to reconsider the confidential designation and we have voluntarily agreed to do so because we remain confident in our full compliance with FAA regulations governing our training processes, then and now.
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