One occupant of the house died and everyone on the plane perished, including Susan Wehle, of Amherst New York. Her family filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Buffalo. The action serves as the first of what is expected to be a long line of lawsuits stemming from the tragedy.
Wehle's family alleges negligence and seeks unspecified damages in the plane crash that took Susan's life. Defendants named in the action include Continental Airlines, which is based on Houston Texas, Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Colgan Air of Manassas, Virginia and Bombardier Aerospace, which is the Canadian company based in Montreal that manufactured the stricken Dash 8 Q400 aircraft.
The lawsuit alleges that the plane was equipped with inadequate deicing equipment and that the crew—which also perished in the crash—was improperly trained.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still actively investigating the crash and has consistently maintained that a final cause won't be determined for months. However, amidst rampant speculation, the NTSB has focused on the weather conditions at the time of the crash, together with the actions of the crew.
The build-up of ice on the wings and tail of a plane can dramatically affect an aircraft's ability to generate lift and remain in the air. While icing conditions were prevalent the night of the crash, other aircraft—including at least one other Bombardier Dash 8 Q400—managed to land safely at Buffalo. The NTSB has since determined that the aircraft assigned to Flight 3407 was relatively new and was equipped with a pneumatic deicing system. It has also been confirmed that the system was activated 11 minutes into the flight, after the plane lifted off from Newark, New Jersey.
The crew reported icing conditions just prior to the crash, but the NTSB has yet to determine just how serious the atmospheric condition was at the time.
Flight 3407 was coming in on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport just after 10pm on February 12th on autopilot, which is relatively standard procedure when anything but severe weather conditions are present. While the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) differ on when is the most appropriate time to disengage the autopilot when icing conditions are present, the fact remains that according to the onboard flight data recorders the autopilot was automatically disengaged when the plane's anti-stall system sensed a problem, activating the stick-shaker and stick-pusher system.
The latter system is designed to alert the pilot of a serious issue requiring immediate corrective measures and to take matters into its own hands by pushing the yoke forward, nosing the plane down in an effort to generate additional lift to avoid a stall.
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Instead, the Bombardier twin turboprop lurched and pitched violently in the air before dropping an incredible 800 feet in just a few seconds. Experts at the scene indicated that in view of a confined debris field, the aircraft would have possessed little forward motion and more than likely dropped onto, rather than plowed into the occupied home in Clarence Center.
A total of 49 people died on the plane, including the crew of 4 and a 5th off-duty pilot who was deadheading in from Newark. There were no survivors on the plane. One person died on the ground.
As the investigation continues, the lawsuit filed Thursday is the first of what is expected to be many.