All systems OK before sudden 'event' downed commuter plane
January 11, 1997
RAISINVILLE TOWNSHIP, Michigan (CNN) -- A twin-engine commuter plane began a routine descent into Detroit in unremarkable conditions, when it suddenly spun out of control and dove into a field, killing all 29 aboard, National Transportation Safety Board member John Hammerschmidt said Saturday.
Hammerschmidt spoke at a news conference Saturday night, basing his remarks on a preliminary analysis of the plane's flight and data recorder, which was recovered Friday and analyzed Saturday at the NTSB's lab in Washington.
He said the plane's pilots -- both highly regarded and experienced -- indicated no distress before the crash and operated the plane's de-icing equipment in accordance with procedures.
The plane, an Embraer 120 twin-engine turboprop operated by Comair, went down at dusk Thursday, 18 miles short of Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
"About one minute after leveling off at 4,000 feet an event took place, normal operations ceased, and the airplane crashed shortly afterwards," he said.
Hammerschmidt said he could not describe the "event" that led to the crash.
Moments before impact, the plane was cleared for landing, after "an orderly, businesslike flight from Cincinnati into Detroit," Hammerschmidt said.
No signs of failure in de-icing systems
The de-icing systems showed no signs of failure based on first examinations by investigators at the crash site and interviews with the pilots who flew the same plane earlier that day, he said.
All wing de-icing boots, designed to break up ice that forms on the wings' front edges, "appeared normal" on the first "cursory examination" by investigators at the crash site, Hammerschmidt said.
The de-icing systems were used two times earlier in the day with no problem, according to the other pilots who flew the plane, he said.
Icing is a major concern since it was blamed for a commuter plane crash October 31, 1994, in Roselawn, Indiana that killed 68 people. The investigation of that accident resulted in an "Airworthiness Directive" from the FAA for Embraer 120s, even though that crash involved a larger ATR 72.
At the time of Wednesday's crash, there were "no remarkable winds," cloud ceiling was 1500 feet and visibility was one to three miles.
Makeshift morgue set up
Also Saturday, crews working under the glare of large construction lights continued to bring in human remains from the crash site, which covers an area larger than two football fields. A makeshift morgue was set up at another airport about a mile away to allow for identification of remains.
Investigators, who were greeted Saturday morning by more frigid temperatures, gusty winds and blowing snow, had yet to begin removing crash debris by the early afternoon.
"They're documenting more than removing," said another NTSB spokesman, Ted Lopatkiewicz.
Hammerschmidt said the investigators found both main landing gear and all propeller blades and flaps on Friday. The gear and flaps were in the up, or retracted positions, which would be expected for a cruising aircraft, he said.
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