Did ice bring down Flight 3407?

February 13, 2009 4:02:41 PM PST
As soon as Flight 3407 crashed into a home near Buffalo, New York, killing 49 people on board and one person on the ground, the question people started asking was: How did it happen?Friday afternoon, investigators said the pilots noticed ice-buildup before the crash.

Ice buildup on a wing can alter the air flow over that wing, reducing lift, and causing a plane to fall out of the sky.

On the Dash 8, black strips along the front edge of the wings and tail are de-icing boots, a pneumatic system to break up ice.

But, aviation attorney Arthur Wolk tells Action News, unlike anti-icing systems used by large jets, the boots do nothing about ice forming mid-wing. Wolk says an icy buildup there, and especially on the tail, can be catastrophic.

"If that download is insufficient because of ice contamination, the nose of the plane drops suddenly. This airplane made a big hole in the ground," Wolk said. "If I was going to bet on what happened, it suffered a tail stall."

For all the early indications of ice, both Wolk and King say crash investigators will proceed cautiously look at all possible scenarios before issuing an official cause.

"They'll go through everything very methodically, and at the end, and only at the end, will they issue their findings," King said. "So, speculation at this point it just that. Speculation."

The NTSB will look at many factors, including how the crew behaved, how they were trained to deal with icing. They'll look at the aircraft, they'll look at it's maintenance, they'll look to see if there was some sort of hidden flaw that might have made dealing with ice more difficult than it should have been.

An investigation like this one can go for months, even years.

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