Lawyers for Colgan Victims Claim to Hold “Smoking Gun”
The chief pilot of Colgan Air had expressed reservations about the qualifications of the captain of the Bombardier Q400 that crashed on approach to Buffalo, N.Y., less than six months prior to the Feb. 12, 2009 accident, according to internal e-mail records released by the law firm representing seven families of the victims.
The e-mails, exchanged on August 26 and 27, 2008, show that chief pilot Bill Honan had originally removed Capt. Marvin Renslow from the airline’s list to upgrade from the Saab 340 to the Q400 due to concerns about his proficiency. Renslow, in fact, had failed three check rides before the start of his employment at Colgan Air in 2005, although he mentioned only one on his job application, and failed two more with Colgan.
“[Renslow] is already off the list,” Honan wrote on August 27 in response to an opinion expressed by Colgan vice president of operations Harry Mitchel that “Anyone who does not meet the [minimums] and had problems training before is not ready to take the Q…”
Honan apparently required Renslow to pass another proficiency training check on the Saab before allowing him to enter the Q400 transition class. Renslow entered the class in October 2008 and passed.
“The e-mails are significant for two reasons,” Hugh Russ, a partner in the Hodgson Russ law firm, told AIN. “First, the e-mails, which are dated just months before the crash, prove that the highest levels of Colgan management recognized that the pilot was not qualified to fly the plane and yet promoted him despite this knowledge. Second, and more generally, the e-mails prove that Colgan, as part of its regular business practices, routinely sacrificed safety for profits.”
Colgan, meanwhile, categorically disputes allegations that the company withheld the information contained in the e-mails from the NTSB. “While this specific email exchange was not included in the NTSB investigation, the information it references, including Renslow’s earlier failed Saab 340 upgrade check in 2007, was in fact shared with NTSB investigators prior to and during testimony,” Colgan said in a statement sent to AIN. “Additionally, the NTSB was aware of the additional proficiency check as his training record was part of the NTSB evidence and that record clearly shows the additional check. To suggest otherwise is patently false and represents a clear attempt by plaintiffs’ attorneys to try their cases against the company in the media.”
Colgan insists that the e-mail exchange refers to a failed check ride that happened a year earlier, during Renslow’s first attempt to upgrade from a first officer to captain in the Saab 340. Renslow underwent additional training before receiving his captain’s type rating from an FAA-designated examiner. As a captain, according to Colgan, he completed three successful “checking events.”
“[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,” said Colgan. “Renslow then successfully completed Colgan’s FAA-approved Q400 training program, was issued a Q400 type rating by an FAA-designated examiner, and successfully completed transition operating experience in the Q400 with a Colgan Q400 check airman, all without any training deficiencies or problems noted.”