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Commercial airliners are registered commercial planes of any size that carry people or cargo for business and are operated by a licensed commercial pilot.
Although commercial airliners have a strong safety record and can be regarded as one of the safest forms of transportation, accidents do happen. At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, it’s our job to determine why.
Whether caused by pilot error, maintenance issues, or mechanical failure, our aviation accident attorneys understand how airplanes operate, and we know what to look for when investigating accidents. If you’ve lost a loved one in an aviation accident, call Nurenberg Paris today at (888) 900-6075 or fill out a free initial consultation form.
Lawyers with Experience
When dealing with an airplane accident, it’s important to hire an attorney who has experience handling these types of cases. At Nurenberg Paris, our aviation team is led by Senior Partner Jamie Lebovitz, who has more than 25 years of experience as a trial attorney.
Our legal team is thorough in our investigations—we take our time looking at every detail of how the crash occurred—and we’re persistent in our fight to get you the compensation you’re owed. For aviation accidents, it’s not just about protecting your rights as a victim; it’s also about bringing change to the industry and preventing future accidents from occurring as a result of similar circumstances.
If you want plane crash lawyers with experience representing your claim, turn to Nurenberg Paris for help.
A Few of the Commercial Aviation Cases We’ve Handled
Hawker Beechcraft F33A crash in Tarentum Pennsylvania
Several students had the opportunity to enjoy short sightseeing flights aboard a Hawker Beechcraft F33A on May 11, 2011, as part of an event put on by the EAA Young Eagles Flying Club in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. However, one of the flights never made it into the air. After struggling to get off the ground, the Beechcraft’s pilot attempted to abort takeoff, but not soon enough to prevent the plane from skidding off the runway and over a steep, 30-degree embankment. The plane’s four occupants plummeted 100 feet before coming to a violent halt. Two of the passengers, including one student, were seriously injured.
Piper PA-32R-300 crash in Fredericktown, Missouri
A non-instrument-rated pilot and two passengers were killed when a Piper PA-32R-300 aircraft crashed into trees near Fredericktown, Missouri, on March 27, 2011. The last radar return showed the plane 50 miles south of the accident site. Because of dense forest in the area, it took responders two days to locate the wreckage.
Mooney M20M crash in Midlothian, Virginia
A Mooney M20M aircraft took off from Chesterfield County Airport in Virginia at 10:16 a.m. on April 27, 2008. The plane executed several unusual turns as it climbed before suddenly banking hard to the right. As it did, part of the lower fuselage panel and left rear window separated from the plane. It soon spiraled to the ground, where it crashed into a house. The plane was destroyed on impact, killing the two passengers. The sole occupant in the house sustained serious burn injuries. From the plane’s unusual sequence of turns and sudden spiraling dive, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded the pilot likely experienced spatial disorientation at the time of the crash.
Cessna U206C crash in Fremont, Ohio
Participants at a Lions Club Fly-in\Drive-in fund raising event purchased tickets for short, sightseeing flights aboard a Cessna U206C on June 8, 2008. The flights were given by a pilot-agent of the Lions Club who, unbeknownst to the passengers, suffered from macular degeneration. Several successful flights were completed before five passengers, including a four-year-old girl, walked onto the plane—unaware that they would never walk off it. Witnesses reported seeing the plane flying low and very slow, almost on the edge of a stall, before it dipped below the tree line and crashed near the airport. Everyone on board perished.
Rockwell International 690B crash in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
Air traffic control negligence in San Juan, Puerto Rico, proved to be disastrous on December 3, 2008. The controller placed a Rockwell International Turbo Commander aircraft with a pilot and two passengers on a heading that led it directly toward obstructed, mountainous terrain, and failed to issue instructions that would have directed the plane to navigate out of harm’s way. Because of this alleged negligence on the part of the controller, the plane ultimately flew into the side of a mountain, killing the pilot and both passengers.
Cirrus SR22 & Cessna R172K midair collision in Rock Springs, Wyoming
A Cirrus SR22 aircraft, carrying a pilot and one passenger, was on approach into Rock Springs Airport in Rock Springs, Wyoming, when it collided in midair with a Cessna R172K. Both passengers aboard the Cirrus, and the pilot of the Cessna (the plane’s only occupant) were killed in the collision. The Cessna was conducting an instructional flight out of Rock Springs Airport, and the Cirrus was culminating a personal flight from Polson, Montana. The Cirrus, which was descending as it approached the airport, was unable to spot and avoid the Cessna in time. A collision avoidance system manufactured by L-3 Communications and installed by Cirrus, failed to alert the pilot of the Cirrus of the intruder aircraft, and consequently, the aircraft collided.
East Coast Jets Raytheon Hawker 800 crash in Owatonna, Minnesota
On July 31, 2008, six passengers boarded a Hawker Beechcraft BAE 125-800A aircraft in Atlantic City, New Jersey, destined for Owatonna, Minnesota. Shortly before they arrived at their destination, a thunderstorm swept through Owatonna. The plane touched down at around 9:45 a.m., but because of the excessive amount of water that had accumulated on the runway, it was unable to stop. The pilot attempted a last-minute go-around, but was unsuccessful, and the plane crashed into some structures before tumbling into a field. All six passengers, along with both pilots, were killed.
Lancair 235 & Cessna 172L midair collision near Rootstown, Ohio
At 2:05 p.m. on October 14, 2005, a Lancair 235 and a Cessna 172L collided in midair near Rootstown, Ohio. The Lancair was conducting a flight from Carrollton, Ohio, to Ravenna, Ohio, with two occupants on board, including the pilot. The Cessna was piloted by a flight instructor and a student pilot, and was engaged in an instrument instructional flight. None of the four occupants survived the collision.
At the time of the accident, daytime visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and neither plane was operating under air traffic control. In addition, there were no mechanical issues with either plane. Federal Aviation Administration regulations state,“vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.” It was determined that the probable cause of the accident was, “the failure of both pilots to maintain an adequate visual lookout during cruise flight.”
Cessna T337G crash near Atlanta, Georgia
A small Cessna T337G, carrying a pilot and one passenger, took off from an Atlanta-area airport at 11:20 p.m. on August 8, 2007. Just 15 minutes after departure, the pilot contacted the control tower, alerting them that the rear engine had failed. The pilot attempted to turn back and land at the airport, but the plane could not maintain altitude and attempted a forced landing near a water treatment plant. During the landing, the plane struck the top of a building and burst into flames. Both passengers survived the crash, but sustained serious and permanent injuries.
After the pilot lost the rear engine, he attempted to increase power to the other engine in order to land back at the airport. But the front engine, unbeknownst to the pilot, had been developing valve-related problems. The power output of the front engine remained well below sufficient levels, and the plane was unable to maintain altitude. An investigation into maintenance records revealed that a Cessna-approved repair station failed to correct anomalies and defects in both the rear and front engines, leading to the power loss.
Cessna P210N crash in Salmon, Idaho
Two friends were set to return from a hunting trip near Salmon, Idaho, on September 28, 2005. A recently purchased Cessna P210N aircraft was loaded with gear, including the front and hind quarters of an elk, and was ready for takeoff. As the plane maneuvered down the runway, it failed to pick up enough speed and struggled to get off the ground. It briefly became airborne, but then crashed to the ground just a quarter-mile beyond the runway. A fire erupted in the fuselage and both passengers perished. The crash occurred due to the failure of a seat-locking system on the pilot’s side, which caused the pilot’s seat to suddenly slide backwards, causing the pilot’s hands to pull on the control wheel.
Beech V35B crash in Rock Hill, South Carolina
A Beech V35B aircraft was on approach into an airport in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when it suddenly fell from the sky, crashing into a subdivision about a mile southwest of its destination. The pilot survived, but both passengers on board were killed. Witnesses reported hearing the engine cut in and out before finally quitting. Investigators discovered that the plane’s fuel tanks were empty, leading them to determine the probable cause of the accident as, “the pilot’s mismanagement of the fuel supply, which resulted in fuel starvation and subsequent loss of engine power.”
American Airlines Flight 5966 crash in Kirksville, Missouri
On October 19, 2004, American Airlines flight 5966 departed from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, flying to Kirksville, Missouri. The crew on Flight 5966 was on its sixth flight of the day, on day three of a four-day rotation. On approach, the captain and first officer had numerous casual and unprofessional conversations regarding the weather and the lack of an instrument landing system that continued during landing. The captain was so close to the airport he believed he had “approach lights in sight.” Seconds later, at 7:36 p.m. (CDT), the aircraft collided with the tree line and crashed into a wooded area surrounding Kirksville Regional Airport. The aircraft broke into multiple pieces on impact. A post-impact fire engulfed the aircraft and surrounding trees. Two passengers escaped the wreckage but suffered serious injuries. The crew and 11 other passengers died. First responders were unable to arrive at the scene until 8:30 p.m., due to difficulties in locating the aircraft.
The NTSB investigated the circumstances surrounding the crash and determined the probable cause of the accident to be, “the pilots’ failure to follow established procedures and properly conduct a non-precision instrument approach at night in IMC, including their descent below the minimum descent altitude (MDA) before required visual cues were available (which continued un-moderated until the airplane struck the trees and their failure to adhere to the established division of duties between the flying and nonflying (monitoring) pilot. Contributing to the accident was the pilots’ failure to make standard callouts and the current Federal Aviation Regulations that allow pilots to descend below the MDA into a region in which safe obstacle clearance is not assured based upon seeing only the airport approach lights. The pilots’ unprofessional behavior during the flight and their fatigue likely contributed to their degraded performance.”
U.S. Forestry Service crash in Essex, Montana
On September 20, 2004, four U.S. Forestry Service workers had planned to take a Cessna 206 aircraft into the rugged Flathead National Forest backcountry to conduct a forest inventory. The weather had been overcast that morning with heavy rain and mist, delaying the flight for two hours. When the aircraft did not check in with the Forestry Service at 3:30 p.m., a search and rescue mission was initiated. The Cessna had collided with a fog-shrouded mountain and burst into flames.
The NTSB investigated and determined the probable cause was, “the pilot’s misidentification of the airplane’s location, which resulted in his improper decision to fly into the wrong drainage, and his failure to maintain terrain clearance while executing a turn to reverse course after he realized his navigational error. Contributing factors were the low visibility due to mist, obscuration of the mountainous terrain, and the pilot’s lack of experience in backcountry flying.”
Mooney M20R crash in Leesburg, Virginia
On March 20, 2003, a Mooney M20R aircraft was on its final approach into a Leesburg, Virginia, airport when it crashed about a mile short of the runway, killing the pilot. There were no other passengers on board. Several witnesses described seeing the plane complete a series of unusual maneuvers during its descent before crashing to the ground, nose-first.
The pilot, who bought the plane from a Mooney factory less than a year before the crash, had experienced problems with it from the time it was delivered. The problems, which included a malfunctioning directional gyro and compass system, likely were the result of an “over voltage” event while the plane was at the factory. Because of the mechanical issues, extensive post-delivery repairs were required. Despite these repairs, and despite the fact that Mooney reassured the pilot that his airplane was airworthy, it crashed because of design and manufacture defects.
Georgian Express Flight 126 crash near Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada
Nine passengers and a pilot were returning from Pelee Island, Ontario, on January 17, 2004, when their plane—a Cessna Caravan 208B bound for Windsor, Ontario—crashed into Lake Erie. After crashing through a surface of ice, the plane came to rest seven meters below the frozen lake. Gale force winds and severe icing conditions prevailed at the time of the flight, and persisted for weeks afterward. As a result, thirteen days passed before Canadian authorities were able to recover the aircraft and bodies of the victims. Investigators determined that the plane was overloaded at the time of the flight, which contributed to the crash.
Air Evac Life Team helicopter crash in Boonville, Indiana
On the evening of April 20, 2004, an elderly man suffering a heart attack was being transported to a hospital in Evansville, Indiana, when the Air Evac helicopter carrying him crashed. Three crewmembers—including the pilot, paramedic, and nurse—survived the crash, but the patient did not. Upon investigation, it was determined the patient survived the initial crash, but died when he was strangled by a chest strap attached to his stretcher. The patient was asphyxiated for about ten minutes before he died, during which time none of the surviving crewmembers came to his aid. Furthermore, medical records show the patient had a very good chance of surviving his heart attack had he made it to the hospital.
Prior to the crash, the altimeter on the Bell 206L-1 helicopter was reported as operating erratically by another pilot. An investigation determined the altimeter was reading about 310 feet higher than actual altitude. The pilot flying the helicopter during the crash was aware of these problems. The probable cause of the accident was determined to be, “the pilot’s inadequate planning/decision which resulted in his failure to maintain terrain clearance. Contributing factors were the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning.”
Singapore Airlines Flight 006 crash near Taipei, Taiwan
The crash of a Boeing 747 passenger jet en route from Asia to the United States claimed more than 80 lives, including that of a prominent physician from the Cleveland, Ohio, area.
Jamie Lebovitz and the aviation accident attorneys at Nurenberg Paris were dispatched to investigate and litigate this international air disaster. After several years of investigation and pre-trial discovery, it was established that the Boeing 747’s pilots attempted to depart on a runway that was closed for construction. As the aircraft sped down the runway, it struck construction barriers and equipment before bursting into flames.
A civil action was brought in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, and Lebovitz was appointed by the court to the steering committee in charge of litigation. Among the cases resolved was that of the physician, for the sum of $5 million.
Alaska Air Flight 261 crash near Point Mugu, California
Alaska Airlines Flight 261 was scheduled to fly from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Seattle, Washington, with a planned intermediate stop in San Francisco on January 31, 2000. Off the California coast, the crew fought to keep the nose of the plane from pitching—or pointing—down. At about 4:20 p.m., the pitch of the plane changed from 2.7 degrees to 70 degrees in less than 15 seconds, and within about one minute, the plane hit the water. All 88 people onboard—including five crewmembers and 83 passengers—were killed.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the probable cause of the accident was, “a loss of airplane pitch control resulting from the in-flight failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system jackscrew assembly’s acme nut threads. The thread failure was caused by excessive wear resulting from Alaska Airlines’ insufficient lubrication of the jackscrew assembly.”
The NTSB report added that Alaska Airlines’ extended lubrication interval contributed to the accident, as did the absence of a fail-safe mechanism to prevent the catastrophic effects of total acme nut thread loss.
Jamie Lebovitz and his legal team represented 18 families on the plaintiff’s steering committee in charge of handling litigation for all families. Our clients were awarded more than $300 million.
EgyptAir Flight 990 crash near Nantucket, Massachusetts
At 1:22 a.m. on October 31, 1999, a Boeing 767 bound for Egypt took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The 217 souls on board, including crew, were settling in for a long, 10-hour flight when, just thirty minutes after departure, the plane suddenly began diving towards the Atlantic Ocean. After descending more than 15,000 feet, the plane leveled off briefly before continuing to fall and eventually crashing into the ocean. All 217 people onboard were killed.
The investigation that ensued was long and complicated. Because the incident occurred in international waters and involved a foreign airline, protocol called for Egypt to lead investigative efforts. But Egyptian authorities lacked the capacity to fully investigate the incident, and turned the reins over to the NTSB.
Investigators determined the flight’s relief pilot took control of the airplane and intentionally put it into an uncontrolled dive. It was later discovered that the relief pilot had serious emotional problems and wanted to die. The probable cause of the accident was listed as, “deliberate actions by the relief first officer, including the deactivation of autopilot and subsequent unsanctioned flight control inputs.”
Swissair flight 111 crash in Halifax, Nova Scotia
At JFK International Airport, Swissair Flight 111 departed on its way to Geneva, Switzerland, on September 2, 1998. This was a codeshare flight with Delta Air Lines. The 215 passengers and 14 crewmembers settled in for a long flight. At 9:14 p.m., about 53 minutes after takeoff, the crew noticed an unusual smell in the cockpit.
Within three minutes, the flight crew noted visible smoke and declared the international urgency signal “Pan Pan Pan.” At that point, the pilot reported to Air Traffic Service (ATS) that there was smoke in the cockpit and requested immediate clearance to land at Boston’s Logan International Airport. They were informed Halifax International Airport in Nova Scotia was only 58 nautical miles away. While the aircraft made preparations for landing, they advised ATS they had to land immediately. Flight 111 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax International Airport at the entrance to St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia. All 229 passengers on board died. The crash was investigated by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The official cause of the crash was that the flammable material used in the aircraft’s structure allowed a fire from the entertainment system to spread beyond the control of crew, resulting in a loss of control of the aircraft.
TWA Flight 800 crash near Long Island, New York
At 8:02 p.m. on July 17, 1996, 230 passengers and crew settled in for a long, transatlantic flight, as their Boeing 747-131 took off from JFK International Airport in New York. The flight was bound for Paris, but would not make it past Long Island. At 8:31 p.m., the plane suddenly exploded in a deadly fireball, sending flaming debris plummeting toward the Atlantic Ocean. Several Long Island residents reported seeing a bright explosion in the night sky, and when rescue boats arrived on the scene, they found no survivors.
The tragic incident was investigated extensively by the NTSB and other experts, who determined the cause of the explosion was a spark inside the central fuel tank that ignited highly flammable fuel vapors. Though the cause of the spark was never determined with certainty, investigators believe it was likely the result of a short circuit outside the fuel tank, and a subsequent surge of voltage into the tank’s fuel quantity indication system. The accident catalyzed the NTSB, along with the public, to pressure the FAA into adopting stricter safety measures with regard to potential sources of ignition involving aircraft fuel tanks.
ValuJet Airlines Flight 592 crash near Miami, Florida
On May 11, 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 was approximately 100 miles west of Miami International Airport (MIA) when the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit. The plane crashed into the Everglades about 10 minutes after takeoff. All 110 souls aboard the plane were killed.
The NTSB determined a fire in the airplane’s class D cargo compartment was ignited by one or more oxygen generators that were being improperly carried as cargo. The NTSB said probable causes of the accident were, “the failure of SabreTech to properly prepare, package, and identify unexpended chemical oxygen generators before presenting them to ValuJet for carriage; the failure of ValuJet to properly oversee its contract maintenance program to ensure compliance with maintenance, maintenance training, and hazardous materials requirements and practices; and the failure of the FAA to require smoke detection and fire suppression systems in class D cargo compartments.”
The NTSB also identified other factors that contributed to the accident, including, “the failure of the FAA to adequately monitor ValuJet’s heavy maintenance programs and responsibilities, including ValuJet’s oversight of its contractors, and SabreTech’s repair station certificate; the failure of the FAA to adequately respond to prior chemical oxygen generator fires with programs to address the potential hazards; and ValuJet’s failure to ensure that both ValuJet and contract maintenance facility employees were aware of the carrier’s ‘no-carry’ hazardous materials policy and had received appropriate hazardous materials training.”
Jamie Lebovitz and the aviation accident attorneys at Nurenberg Paris filed an aviation and wrongful death lawsuit for their plaintiff, who received $4.5 million in the case.
Comair Flight 3272 crash in Detroit, Michigan
Twenty-nine passengers, plus three crewmembers, departed Cincinnati, Ohio, destined for Detroit Metropolitan Airport on January 9, 1997, at 2:51 p.m. As the short flight neared Detroit, where it had been snowing lightly, the flight crew requested clearance to land. They were told to descend to 4,000 feet and reduce their speed to 170 knots. A minute later, the tower directed the crew to again reduce their airspeed, this time to 150 knots. The Comair flight crew confirmed this heading at 3:54 p.m. Within seconds, the plane slowed to 146 knots and there was a stall warning. The crew recovered, but several seconds later, the plane went into a stall that they were unable to recover from. From the time the plane departed from controlled flight, it took approximately 20 seconds to slam nose-first into a snow-covered field in Monroe, Michigan, about 18 miles from Detroit Metropolitan Airport. After Flight 3272 smashed into the field, it erupted into flames. Everyone on board died.
After conducting an investigation, the NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash was, “the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) failure to establish adequate aircraft certification standards for flight in icing conditions, the FAA’s failure to ensure that a Centro Tecnico Aerospacial/FAA approved procedure for the accident airplane’s de-ice system operation was implemented by U.S.-based air carriers, and the FAA’s failure to require the establishment of adequate minimum airspeeds for icing conditions, which led to the loss of control when the airplane accumulated a thin, rough accretion of ice on its lifting surfaces. Contributing to the accident were the flight crew’s decision to operate in icing conditions near the lower margin of the operating airspeed envelope (with flaps retracted) and Comair’s failure to establish (and adequately disseminate) unambiguous minimum airspeed values for flap configurations and for flight in icing conditions.”
USAir Flight 427 crash in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
USAir Flight 427, a Boeing 727, was traveling from Chicago and destined for West Palm Beach, Florida, with a stopover in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1994. At 7:04 p.m.—shortly after the pilot radioed to the air traffic controller that they were on final approach to Pittsburgh International Airport in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania—the plane crashed into a heavily wooded area. All 127 passengers and crew on board perished. After an extensive investigation, it was determined that the loss of control of the aircraft was the result of an un-commanded movement of the rudder, as a result of a jam of the main rudder power control unit servo valve.
USAir Flight 1016 crash in Charlotte, North Carolina
On July 2, 1994, USAir Flight 1016 was en route to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, traveling from Columbia, South Carolina. It was to be a short flight for the 52 passengers on board. There were several heavy thunderstorms near the airport as they approached it. The tower controller issued a wind shear warning to all aircraft, but on a different radio frequency than flight 1016.
Flight 1016 was on approach to the airport when one member of the flight crew radioed to the control tower that they were “going to go around and try it again.” The plane struggled to climb due to the severe weather conditions and crashed into a wooded area and private residence just outside the airport. Seven county emergency crews rushed to the crash scene. In the end, two passengers received minor injuries, 18 passengers suffered serious injuries, and 37 suffered fatal injuries. The NTSB concluded that a microburst had been generated by the thunderstorm that was over the airport at the time Flight 1016 attempted to land, and this contributed to the crash.
Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 7529 crash in Carrollton, Georgia
Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 7529 left Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport at 12:28 p.m., bound for Gulfport, Mississippi, on August 21, 1995. Less than half an hour after takeoff, the crew experienced problems with the left engine and requested a return to Atlanta. A short time later, the crew advised the control tower they were unable to maintain altitude and they needed to land at the nearest airport immediately. Flight 529 never made it to an airport. The plane began hitting treetops and crashed about five miles from the West Georgia Regional Airport near Carrollton, Georgia, in an open hayfield, breaking into four pieces of twisted metal. Of the 29 passengers and flight crew, nine people died.
The NTSB investigated and determined the plane lost, “a propeller blade from the left engine propeller while climbing through 18,100 feet.” As to probable cause, the NTSB determined, “the in-flight fatigue fracture and separation of a propeller blade resulted in distortion of the left engine nacelle, causing excessive drag, loss of wing lift, and reduced directional control of the airplane. The fracture was caused by a fatigue crack from multiple corrosion pits that were not discovered by Hamilton Standard because of inadequate and ineffective corporate inspection and repair techniques, training, documentation, and communication. Contributing to the accident was Hamilton Standard’s and FAA’s failure to require recurrent on-wing ultrasonic inspections for the affected propellers.”
Continental Flight 795 crash at LaGuardia Airport
The pilot of Continental Flight 795 aborted takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York on March 2, 1994, when he noticed the airspeed indicator reading in the cockpit was much lower than it should have been. The pilot subsequently applied the brakes, and the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 skidded to a halt, but not before sliding past the runway and perilously close to Flushing Bay. Of the 116 passengers on board, seven were injured and all were shaken up.
A couple of factors led to the flight crew’s inability to safely abort the takeoff. First, NTSB investigators found that the airspeed indicators were malfunctioning and that the plane was in fact traveling at an adequate speed for takeoff. In addition, investigators determined the flight crew failed to comply with checklist procedures by reacting to an anomalous airspeed indication in a timely manner.
USAir Flight 405 crash at LaGuardia Airport
On March 22, 1992, a freezing rain/snow mixture fell on LaGuardia Airport in New York City, as USAir Flight 405 prepared to depart for Cleveland, Ohio. Due to the inclement weather, there were long delays at the gate and while taxiing to the runway. Eventually, the plane took off, but was unable to get more than a few feet off the ground before crashing into several obstructions and veering into a bay just beyond the end of the runway. Twenty-seven of the 51 passengers on board perished, mostly by drowning. Nine more were seriously injured.
Because of the long delays, the plane, a Fokker F28, was de-iced twice before leaving the gate. But the plane was delayed again while taxiing to the runway, and by the time it took off, 35 minutes had elapsed since the last de-icing. Our investigators found that this far exceeded the roughly 15-minute period for which the Type I de-icing fluid used at the airport is effective. The flight crew had discussed the possibility of ice buildup on the plane prior to taking off, but had decided that another de-icing was not needed.
American Airlines Flight 1572 incident in Hartford, Connecticut
Just before 1 a.m. on November 12, 1995, American Airlines Flight 1572 was on its final descent into Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The weather was windy and rainy. The control tower issued a wind shear alert and advised that landing was at the flight crew’s discretion. The crew elected to attempt a landing, but on approach, the plane impacted the tops of trees and an antenna, before finally landing on the runway. Luckily, everyone on board survived, but the passengers emerged scared, rattled and dazed.
Upon investigation, we found the plane’s altimeter was reading 76 feet higher than actual altitude at the time of the incident, meaning the plane was actually 76 feet lower than the crew thought it was. Standard protocol calls for the control tower to provide the flight crew with a current altimeter reading upon initial radio contact, which the controller failed to do. However, the flight crew also failed to request a current altimeter reading when none was provided.
National Guard C-130 crash in Evansville, Indiana
A Lockheed C-130-B Hercules military airplane crashed in Evansville, Indiana, during a training flight on February 6, 1992. The plane was flown by a student pilot, who executed a low-level approach maneuver with insufficient airspeed, causing the plane to stall and crash next to a hotel and restaurant complex. All five passengers, along with 11 bystanders from the hotel and restaurant, were killed. Eleven more people inside the hotel sustained various injuries.
Ryan International crash at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
Ryan International Flight 590 flew into Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, shortly before midnight on February 16, 1991. The plane, a McDonnell-Douglas DC-9, was on the ground for 35 minutes before taking off again, during which time it was snowing. The plane was never de-iced while on the ground, and stalled while taking off, crashing to the ground and killing both passengers.
USAir Flight 1493 crash at Los Angeles International Airport
Seconds after touching down at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 1, 1991, USAir Flight 1493 slammed into a SkyWest Metroliner that was preparing to take off from the same runway. The Metroliner was crushed beneath the fuselage of the USAir Boeing 737-300, and all 12 of its passengers were killed. The Boeing, meanwhile, dragged the Metroliner across the runway, catching fire before coming to rest against a building. The intense fire rendered three of the Boeing’s six exits unusable, and several passengers were asphyxiated by smoke as they waited to evacuate the plane. When it was all over, 22 passengers on board the Boeing were dead, and 13 more sustained serious injuries.
The chain of events that led to the accident began with the Metroliner, SkyWest Flight 5569, being cleared to take off from LAX runway 24L. After this clearance was given, the airport’s local controller encountered multiple distractions—including several failed attempts to contact a plane that had just landed, and a misplaced flight progress strip for another Metroliner that the controller ultimately mistook for SkyWest Flight 5569. All of this led the controller to forget the SkyWest Metroliner was positioned on runway 24L, and subsequently clear the USAir Flight to land there.
USAir Flight 4743 crash in Beckley, West Virginia
A British Aerospace aircraft crashed in Beckley, West Virginia, due to an accumulation of ice on the aircraft and subsequent loss of control while on final approach.
United Airlines Flight 232 crash in Sioux City, Iowa
At 3:16 p.m. on July 19, 1989, the flight crew of United Airlines Flight 232 braced themselves for disaster. The fan disk on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10’s tail-mounted engine had just failed, and loose debris had flown out of the engine, penetrating the aircraft’s tail section and puncturing all three of its hydraulic lines. The plane’s hydraulic fluid now depleted, the crew did not have any control over the plane’s movements. Thinking quickly, the crew was able to steady the plane by independently commanding power to the plane’s right and left wing engines.
The crew was unable, however, to reduce the plane’s speed as it flew toward Sioux City Gateway Airport, where all runways had been cleared for an emergency landing. Luckily, the plane made it to the airport, but when it did, it landed with such violent force that it was ripped into multiple sections. Parts of the fuselage caught fire, and several passengers died from smoke inhalation. All told, 111 of the 296 passengers on board were killed in the crash. Forty-seven more sustained serious injuries. The catastrophe was caused by the cracked fan disk, which should have been detected during routine maintenance.
United Airlines Flight 811 disaster in Honolulu, Hawaii
United Airlines Flight 811 departed Honolulu, Hawaii, at 1:52 a.m. on February 24, 1989. Sixteen minutes after departure, an improperly latched cargo door on the Boeing 747 aircraft blew out and smashed into the side of the plane, caving in a section of the cabin. Nine passengers seated in that part of the cabin were ejected from the plane and fell to their deaths. Two of the plane’s engines were also damaged when they were struck by debris, but the flight crew was able to turn back and land at Honolulu International Airport, where the rest of the passengers—five of whom sustained serious injuries—were evacuated.
Pan Am Flight 103 crash in Lockerbie, Scotland
On December 21, 1988, a Boeing 747-121, named Clipper Maid of the Seas, was destroyed after an explosive device detonated on board. This flight was a transatlantic flight traveling from Heathrow Airport in London to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Known as “the bombing of Pan Am,” the explosion propelled large pieces of the fuselage to the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 11 people. All 243 passengers and 16 crewmembers on board the flight died.
An extensive international investigation beleaguered by U.S. sanctions, negotiations, and assertions of conspiracy and terrorism ensued. The investigation was lead by the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, who eventually issued murder warrants for two Libyan nationals. In 2003, Muammar Gaddafi admitted Libya’s responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, and paid compensation to the victims’ families.
Arrow Air Flight 1285 crash in Gander, Newfoundland
A McDonnell Douglas DC-8-63CF aircraft carrying U.S. troops home from Egypt stopped in Gander, Newfoundland, to refuel on December 12, 1985. Shortly after taking off again, the plane stalled, lost altitude, and crashed just beyond the end of the runway. A post-crash fire erupted and all 256 passengers, including crew, perished. Canadian investigators found that though the plane was subjected to freezing rain conditions while on the ground, the plane was never de-iced, which allowed ice to build up on the wings and caused the plane to stall.
Sikorsky helicopter crash in Jackson, Kentucky
A University of Kentucky Medical Center helicopter was returning to the medical center when it crashed in Jackson, Kentucky, at 10:08 p.m. on June 14, 1999, killing all four passengers on board. The co-pilot, who was flying the Sikorsky S-76A helicopter at the time of the accident, made a comment to the pilot roughly 20 seconds before the crash indicating that the helicopter’s gyro had failed. But the pilot-in-command (PIC) never acknowledged the co-pilot’s comment, nor did he attempt to take control of the helicopter as it was going down. We determined the probable cause of the accident to be the failure of the PIC to adequately supervise the co-pilot. Contributing factors were fog and nighttime conditions.
Mooney M20E crash in Cedar City, Utah
A personal flight from Boulder, Colorado, to Cedar City, Utah, made a stop at Nucla, Colorado, on May 3, 1999, to refuel. But the airport manager, who had the only key to the fuel pump, was not at the airport, and the Mooney M20E aircraft took off again without refueling. At 2:31 p.m., the plane was nearing its destination when the pilot declared a minimum fuel situation. Twelve minutes later, the pilot declared an emergency due to fuel exhaustion, and at 2:51 p.m., the plane crashed short of the airport. All three passengers on board perished.
Beech BE-55 crash in Elkhart, Indiana
A Beech BE-55 aircraft was on approach to Elkhart Municipal Airport in Elkhart, Indiana, when it crashed about a half-mile short of the runway on January 22, 1999, killing the pilot and one passenger and seriously injuring another. The crash occurred at 6:40 p.m. in dense fog. The plane was operating on an instrument flight rules flight plan, but the pilot was unable to maintain the altitude prescribed by air traffic control due to the adverse weather conditions, which resulted in the plane being substantially lower on approach than it should have been.
Piper Warrior crash in Half Moon Bay, California
The weather was cloudy on the night of May 22, 1998, when a Piper PA-28-161 aircraft, carrying a pilot and three passengers, took off from an airport in Half Moon Bay, California. After climbing to an altitude of 1,700 feet, the plane suddenly descended and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing all four passengers. We determined the probable cause of the accident to be the non-instrument rated pilot’s loss of aircraft control due to spatial disorientation in dark, nighttime conditions.
Hughes 269B Helicopter crash in Cleveland, Ohio
The pilot of a Hughes 269B helicopter was descending towards Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, at the conclusion of a sightseeing trip on October 31, 1997, when he reported encountering severe winds of around 35 knots. Suddenly, the pilot lost control of the helicopter’s airspeed. The aircraft began to descend rapidly toward the ground and landed violently on a roadway. Luckily, none of the three passengers were seriously injured, but all were quite shaken up.
Ryan Navion crash in Pacoima, California
During its initial climb out of a Pacoima, California, airport on September 25, 1997, a Ryan Navion-B aircraft abruptly lost engine power and fell from the sky, crashing into two houses a half-mile from the airport. The plane was on an instructional flight, and a post-crash investigation discovered the student pilot had inadvertently selected the auxiliary fuel tank, rather than the main fuel tank, to supply the engine with fuel. As a result, the engine quit shortly after takeoff when the auxiliary tank ran out of fuel. The ensuing crash killed the student pilot and another passenger. The flight instructor survived but sustained serious injuries.
Cessna 172 crash in Bremerton, Washington
A private pilot rented a Cessna 172 aircraft for a personal flight from Friday Harbor, Washington, to Bremerton, Washington, with his wife and a friend on the evening of September 23, 1997. The rental company had stringent criteria for nighttime flight rentals, but the fact that the pilot—who had extremely limited nighttime flying experience and did not meet the company’s published criteria—intended to fly at night was not disclosed during his initial “check out” with the rental company. Later, as the pilot was descending toward Bremerton National Airport, he misjudged his altitude and distance from the runway, and crashed into a stand of trees a half-mile short of the runway, killing everyone on board.
Cessna T210N crash in Vichy, Missouri
A Cessna T210N was on approach to Rolla National Airport in Vichy, Missouri, on the evening of April 11, 1997, when the pilot determined that weather conditions at the airport, which included heavy fog, were too dicey to attempt a landing. A go-around procedure was initiated, but the plane was unable to climb to a sufficient altitude and crashed into a stand of trees just a half-mile northwest of the airport. Two passengers and the pilot were killed, while another passenger was seriously injured. Due to the darkness and fog, it took first responders three hours to find the wreckage.
The Rolla National Airport in Vichy has an elevation of 1,148 feet, and the minimum descent altitude for the flight was 1,500 feet, meaning that any go-around or missed approach procedure would have to be initiated at an altitude higher than 1,500 feet. The surviving passenger testified the altimeter read 1,300 feet when the pilot initiated the go-around, leading our experts to conclude the probable cause of the accident was the, “failure of the pilot to properly follow missed approach procedure and maintain minimum descent altitude (MDA) during night/IFR flight.”
Piper PA-24-250 crash in Farmington, New Mexico
On February 14, 1997, a Piper PA-24-250 aircraft took off from a Farmington, New Mexico, regional airport and climbed to an altitude of a couple hundred feet before suddenly slowing down as it appeared to enter a stall. The aircraft then spiraled out of control and dove towards the ground. It crashed at 11:15 p.m. All five passengers on board perished.
Piper Aerostar crash in Chesapeake, Virginia
The pilot of a private Piper Aerostar 601P hurriedly refueled his aircraft at Chesapeake Municipal Airport on January 2, 1997, eager to take off before the arrival of bad weather. Shortly after takeoff, however, the plane crashed into a stand of trees in a swampy area just a half-mile north of the runway. The pilot and three passengers on board were killed. No pre-impact mechanical deficiencies were noted, and we determined the probable cause of the accident to be the failure of the pilot to maintain proper altitude/clearance above the ground after takeoff.
Mitsubishi MU-2B crash in Malad City, Idaho
Six passengers and two pilots took off from Salt Lake City, Utah, bound for Pocatello, Idaho, on the morning of January 15, 1996. As the plane, a Mitsubishi MU-2B, neared its destination, it encountered icing conditions and suddenly began losing speed and altitude. The flight crew declared an emergency, but then lost radio contact before plunging into mountains near Malad City, Idaho. The plane was destroyed in the crash and post-impact fire that followed, and all eight passengers perished.
Our investigation found that the de-icing equipment on the plane was faulty. The flight crew was aware of this, but chose to continue with the flight because, although the day’s weather forecast indicated icing conditions around Pocatello, no icing conditions were forecast along the rest of the flight’s path. Furthermore, the flight crew failed to maintain adequate speed upon entering the icing conditions, which resulted in loss of aircraft control.
Beechcraft Baron crash into Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio
Prior to departing from Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 19, 1995, the pilot of a Beech 58 aircraft was advised by air traffic control to head north, over Lake Erie, after taking off from a westward-facing runway. At 5:37 p.m., the plane took off, climbed a couple hundred feet, and turned to the right, before plunging into the lake, miles from the shore. Emergency personnel recovered two survivors from the water, both with serious injuries, while three other passengers—including a twelve-year-old child whom one survivor saw go under the water—were lost to the lake and declared missing and presumed dead.
The pilot of another plane, that departed from the same airport shortly after the Beech, reported adverse conditions—including darkness, clouds, and the absence of lights or other visual cues over the lake—that he described as “disorienting.” He also stated that the horizon was indistinguishable from the lake during this time. The plane that crashed had an instrument flight rules (IFR) plan, but it was not followed, as the plane turned northward after climbing only a couple hundred feet, well below the altitude prescribed by a standard IFR procedure.
Beechcraft Queen BE-65 crash in Shacklefords, Virginia
Ten parachutists and their pilot perished on September 10, 1995, when a Beech Queen BE-65 aircraft fell from the sky shortly after takeoff and crashed into a house. One person inside the house was also killed. The plane had completed seven successful flights earlier in the day, but during takeoff on the accident flight, the right engine began making noises that indicated it was misfiring. Shortly after takeoff, the plane began to bank hard to the right, consistent with a right engine failure, before dropping from the sky. Our investigation found that the maximum weight limit for the plane had been exceeded.