Niagara Gazette

Local News

September 3, 2013

Disputed info allowed in Flight 3407 crash suits

Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Lawyers for families suing over the deadly 2009 crash of a plane into a house near Buffalo have won access to an internal safety report that the flight's operators had fought to keep private.

They can also interview a retired Federal Aviation Administration inspector who, before the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, was critical of Colgan Air Inc., the now-defunct regional carrier that operated the Newark, N.J.-to-Buffalo flight for Continental Airlines.

A federal judge issued the decisions last week in advance of a March 2014 trial in the case of wrongful death claims filed by passengers' families against Continental, Colgan, its parent, Pinnacle Airlines Corp. and the plane's maker, Bombardier Inc.

Colgan and Pinnacle had argued against both disclosures.

"The significance, I don't think can be overstated," Hugh Russ III, a lawyer representing several families, said Tuesday.

The commuter flight stalled and crashed into a house on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Feb. 12, 2009, in an accident investigators blamed on pilot error. All 49 people on board and a man in the house died.

Less than a month after the crash, Colgan Air commissioned the firm of Nick Sabatini & Associates for an internal safety review during which Sabatini interviewed mechanics, pilots and other employees and observed training classes and flights.

Colgan executives said the findings were privileged and intended for internal use only — and withheld them from the National Transportation Safety Board during its investigation of the crash. Lawyers also argued the report was irrelevant to the lawsuits because Sabatini's firm wasn't hired to investigate the crash, only to examine Colgan's post-crash operations.

In ruling for disclosure, U.S. District Judge William Skretny said the report was potentially relevant because it was unlikely that the culture at Colgan had significantly changed in the weeks after the crash.

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