Plane Crash Families Mourn on Second Anniversary

VIDEO: Brian Ross Investigates Pilot Fatigue
Share
Copy

Scott Maurer vividly recalls the 1 a.m. phone call he received from his daughter's boyfriend two years ago when he first heard his 30-year-old daughter Lorin had died in a plane crash.

"When that phone rang, I picked it up and all Kevin could tell me was, "Scott, Lorin was on that plane.  She's gone," Maurer recalled.

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the crash of Continental Connection 3407, bound for Buffalo, New York, which killed all 49 passengers and crew on board, along with one man on the ground.  The families of the victims will hold a candlelight vigil at 10:17 p.m., the exact time of the crash, in the Buffalo suburb where the plane went down.

While the official cause of the accident was "pilot error," the NTSB found both pilots were sleep-deprived at the time of the accident after getting their rest in airport crew lounges and on board planes to get to Newark Airport for the fatal flight.

But two years after the accident, an ABC News investigation that aired on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline found that pilot fatigue is still a threat to the safety of our skies. "Commuting" pilots, who may travel more than a thousand miles from their homes to the base airports where they work, were caught on undercover video and photos sleeping in airport crew lounges. Undercover video and photos also showed "crash pads," the crowded bunk houses near airports were pilots sleep in shifts for a small fee.

In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the NTSB.

"Nobody wants to step up to the plate and address this issue," Maurer told ABC News.  "Neither the pilots nor the airline industry want to address it, and neither does the FAA."

The NTSB investigation into the Feb. 12, 2009 crash of Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, found that both pilots were commuters, and that 24-year-old co-pilot Rebecca Shaw had commuted across the country, hitching rides on FedEx planes overnight from Seattle to get to her Newark, New Jersey base the day of her flight. Neither pilot even had a chance to sleep in a hot bunk at a "crash pad," where up to two dozen other pilots or crew members sleep after commuting into their base for duty.

Not much has changed, ABC News has found.

CLICK HERE to go inside a crash pad and crew lounge.

"Look at the pilot when you get off that plane at 10 at night, they're exhausted," said Maurer.  "That's what we want in our cockpits flying us around? I don't think so."

FAA Proposes Longer Rest Periods

The Buffalo families had some cause to celebrate last August when a safety bill was passed by Congress that called for better training and hiring practices at airlines, and called for the FAA to deal with the issue of pilot fatigue. The FAA has proposed increasing the rest period between pilot shifts, which is currently 8 hours, and decreasing the maximum length of a pilot's workday, which currently allows them to be on duty for up to 16 hours.

The law does not require that the FAA address the issue of "commuting," an industry-wide system in which crew members live far from where the airports where they are based, sometimes more than a thousand miles away, because of the cost of living in large hub cities. For crew members with starting salaries of $17,000 a year this can prove treacherous, pilots tell ABC News, when pilots try to get what sleep they can in crash pads and crew rooms.

The families of the Flight 3407 victims are concerned that final FAA rules may be watered down under pressure from the industry and an altered landscape in Congress.

"We've worked with members of Congress and they advise us very openly that the airlines, the industry and the lobbyists visit them on a regular basis," Maurer said.

If you're a pilot or crew member with a story from the tired skies, we want to hear it. CLICK HERE to share your story.

In a press conference held earlier this week in Washington, D.C., the families stressed that the law "will only be as strong as the regulations that come forth from it, to be executed by the Federal Aviation Administration."

Follow BrianRoss on Twitter

Maurer says pilots and industry need to work closer together. "If they can't, then it is up to our government to step in and intercede and make something happen."

More than 150 family members of Flight 3407 are expected in Clarence Center, N.Y., this weekend. They plan to gather at the crash site, read the names of the victims and light a candle for each life lost.

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...