Did Colgan Mislead the NTSB About Flight 3407?

October 26, 2011

Earlier this week, we brought you the story of internal e-mails from Colgan Air questioning the piloting abilities of Capt. Marvin Renslow. The e-mails revealed that several higher-ups in the company had concerns about Renslow’s competence to fly a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, the exact type of plane that he later crashed in Buffalo in February 2009, killing all 49 people on board and one on the ground.

Now, the Buffalo News is reporting that at least two of the men exchanging e-mails — former chief pilot Bill Honan and Harry Mitchel, then the vice president of flight operations — may have misled the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] when testifying about the crash.

Honan told the NTSB in an interview, in which he was not under oath: “I don’t have anything in [Renslow’s] file that would signify anything significant in his recent history” and that “there weren’t any issues I saw with him transitioning” to the Q400. Yet the emails revealed that in previous August he wrote to colleagues that “Rensloe [sic] had a problem upgrading” and was “off the list” of pilots being promoted. A month later, Renslow was giving the nod to fly the Q400.

In the case of Mitchel, the News says that he “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.'”

Predictably, these revelations have caused outrage among Flight 3407 family members and lawmakers alike, who are pressing to find out why the e-mails weren’t turned over to the NTSB during their investigation of the crash (the NTSB ruled that the cause of the crash was pilot error). A Western New York congressional delegation has written to the NTSB and Colgan Air with their concerns, with Rep. Kathy Hochul [D] in particular asking for a new investigation. And Sen. Charles Schumer [D-N.Y.] is calling for a hearing on the matter by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security.

Colgan admits to not turning over the emails, though the company says it gave investigators the information contained in them. In addition, they say that Renslow “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.”

Update [Oct. 31, 2011]: Several New York members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday, urging the Justice Department to consider “an investigation into whether Colgan’s actions constituted the intentional withholding of information sought by a federal agency and whether such actions violated federal law.”

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