Remembering USAir Flight 405

by Jamie R. Lebovitz | March 23rd, 2012

USAir Flight 405 crashed twenty years ago yesterday, killing twenty-seven passengers and injuring scores of others.  The flight was departing from LaGuardia Airport and heading to Cleveland, Ohio. Some passengers survived the crash with no visible injuries; others suffered much more serious injuries; and many never made it home alive.  No matter the severity of the injury, all are remembered on this 20th anniversary of the crash.  Their experience made lasting changes in the aviation industry.

The airplane was a Fokker 28, a twin engine jet. The airplane was de-iced twice before leaving the gate due to a significant snowstorm over LaGuardia airport.  After the de-icing, however, there was a period of about 35 minutes when the airplane was subjected to further ice and snow while waiting on the runway for clearance to take off.  Ice and snow on the wings create a very dangerous condition that inhibits an airplane’s ability to safely fly.  When the airplane did finally take-off, the ice on the wings caused it to stall, leading to its crash.  The airplane came to rest partially inverted in the Hudson Bay.

Federal Aviation Regulations have long required commercial airline pilots to ensure that the wings and tail of the airplane are free of any ice or snow prior to takeoff – not prior to leaving the gate. Here’s the problem: USAir flight 405 may have been de-iced prior to takeoff, but the delay on the ground negated any effect the de-icing fluid had on the tail and wings.  Thus the snow and ice which formed after de-icing made it impossible for the airplane to lift off the runway.

Today, the rules imposed by the FAA and the procedures adopted by the major airlines prevent a repeat of Flight 405. If an airplane is de-iced and does not immediately depart on the runway, the airplane must be de-iced again if it has been subjected to snow or icy forms of precipitation.   If you are flying out of an airport and it’s snowing, you can be sure your airplane will be de-iced at least once; and if your departure is delayed by more than 30 minutes, the airplane will return to the de-icing pad for another application of de-icing fluid to ensure that you have a safe journey. Change comes slowly in the aviation industry.  In this case those that were injured or lost loved ones know that changes were made to help prevent another disaster from occurring

Authored by: Aviation Trial Attorney Jamie R. Lebovitz