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Turbulence During United Flight 967 Injures Scores; After Years of Such Events, Why Do They Continue?

In the wake of the turbulence that struck United Airlines Flight 767, injuring passengers and flight attendants, the question arises: is the airline industry and is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doing everything possible to prevent mayhem from convective winds? The answer: probably not.

The reason: injuries and even deaths continue to occur on a regular basis. The Tuesday, 20 July, turbulence encounter of the United B777 wide body twinjet was reportedly the third such event for the airline this year. But who knows? At least six such airline encounters have occurred worldwide this month; the annual incidence is obviously higher.

And clearly something is amiss in turbulence avoidance and injury mitigation policies, because frightening and even deadly encounters with potentially bone breaking turbulence continue to occur.

Commercial airplanes run into turbulence 5,000 times a year, according to one account. Most of the encounters are above 10,000 feet. Injury claims alone track into the tens of millions of dollars annually.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be investigating the event. The NTSB will reconstruct the weather at the time, the actions of air traffic controllers and the pilots. Although the NTSB is known more for investigating crashes, this turbulence encounter put people in the hospital; thus, the NTSB is empowered to investigate and make recommendations to ameliorate the hazard.

At this point, general outlines of the accident can be reconstructed. United flight 967 was en route from Dulles International Airport near Washington DC, bound Tuesday night for Los Angeles International Airport. There were 255 passengers and 10 crewmembers aboard. Over Kansas, directly in the path of the westbound jet, a rapidly forming severe thunderstorm was boiling upward. The storm climbed from about 25,000 feet to 45,000 feet in 30 minutes. It produced large hail, indicating the presence of severe turbulence. Updrafts of 50-100 mph are not uncommon.

Radar image of Kansas about the time that United flight 967 encountered severe turbulence.

Radar image of Kansas about the time that United flight 967 encountered severe turbulence.

The plane was flying at 34,000 feet, directly into a wall of convective turbulence. Flying into this wall, the airplane jumped. The rapid change in altitude, as in previous turbulence encounters, caused everything not secured by straps, locks, latches and whatnot to be hurled about the cabin. This includes people.

One passenger described the encounter as “just a huge up and down.” She said her seatbelt was tight; the woman sitting next to her hit her head on the side of the cabin, and a girl across the aisle flew into the air and hit the ceiling.

It is not known how many passengers were wearing their seat belts; the seatbelt sign was illuminated at the time. It is not known if the word had been passed from the cockpit to be seated with seatbelts latched because of impending turbulence..

Four flight attendants were injured. It is not known if they were standing at the time or were strapped into their jump seats. Flight attendant jump seats, unlike 16G passenger seats, are only 9G capable and they have collapsed in previous incidents, injuring flight attendants.

Passengers screamed as the airplane bounced in the turbulence. The uninjured flight attendants calmed everyone down fairly rapidly.

Because of the injuries, the captain elected to divert the flight to Denver for immediate medical attention of those individuals who were hurt. The airplane landed at 7:45 pm and the injured passengers and flight attendants, about 25 in all, were treated by paramedics at the scene and then transported to hospital. About 19 were released from hospital the following morning.

The airplane was inspected and found to be structurally sound. Unknown, however, is the condition of the cabin. In previous incidents, sidewall and ceiling panels have been displaced, and overhead bin doors have popped open, spilling their contents and contributing to injuries and the general sense of mayhem.

At Denver, a few of the braver passengers boarded another United flight for Los Angeles.

Given that records exist of the upwelling thunderstorms along the airplane’s route, a number of pertinent issues are sure to be explored by investigators:

— Did air traffic controllers see the convective activity on their scopes? If so, what did they tell the pilots? Additionally, controllers would be in receipt of Pilot Reports (PIREP) which should generate a SIGMET (significant meteorological activity) that’s broadcast to all aircraft in the area.

— What did the dispatcher at United operations center know about the evolving weather, and did he do anything?

— Did the pilots see the convective activity ahead on their weather radar? If so, did they attempt evasive action or continue on their flight path? Did they make a public address (PA) announcement about the turbulence ahead? Were flight attendants ordered to be seated, or were they caught by turbulence while checking passenger seat belts?

— What is the United Airlines policy to flight crews regarding convective weather activity? Is at a 10 mile avoidance policy? A greater distance? Or is there no policy at all at United? It is clear that policies run the gamut from one airline to another; a more uniform avoidance policy – established by the FAA – may make for predictability and safer travel throughout the industry.

— The vulnerability of the cabin to damage and disruption caused by in flight turbulence is unconscionable, given that these events have been occurring for years. Every seat should be stressed for 16G. Every person should be strapped in, including so-called “lap children.”

— Perhaps overhead bin doors with their flimsy latches should be redesigned, to include an electric lock activated from the cockpit on pushback to secure the bin doors until landing.

— The in-flight safety video could include two crash dummies subjected to severe turbulence while seated. One dummy could be strapped in; the other not. Passengers would see the risk of not having the seat belt affixed immediately.

— Northwest Airlines employs a Turbulence Plot System that is regarded as the gold standard for turbulence avoidance. Based on FAA data from 1980-1996, Northwest had the lowest turbulence encounter rate among six major U.S. commercial carriers. Other airlines have purchased the system, but not – according to a 2010 report – United.

The issue is not who voluntarily adapts a proven system, but whether or not the FAA has evaluated the Turbulence Plot System, found it effective, and mandated its adoption across the industry.

This latest event may have been caused by rising turbulent clouds over Kansas, but the long miasma of complacency at the FAA about cabin structure and turbulence avoidance are the root causes of continuing injury.

$6.25 Million Dollar Settlement Paid By Insurers For 57 Year Old

On July 13, 2010 Cook County Judge Donald J. Suriano approved a settlement in the amount of $6,250,000.00 for the benefit of Luis and Kathy Vasquez.  Luis Vasquez was a roofer for Knickerbocker Roofing and Paving Co. and suffered severe injuries on March 8, 2004 when he fell through a roof on the premises owned and operated by Metra known as the 51st Street Coach House. Mr. Vasquez fell straight through a concrete roofing tile some twenty feet to the concrete floor below. The general contractor for the entire project including the re-roof project was Defendant Walsh Construction Company. The roofing contractor, a sub contractor to Walsh, was Knickerbocker Roofing and Paving Company. CTE, Inc., a/k/a Consoer Townsend Environdyne and Cotter Consulting were also contractors.  Plaintiffs allege the Defendants were jointly responsible for inspection of the panels and that Defendant Walsh was responsible for safety on the job.

The $6.25M was paid by all Defendants to settle all claims.  Settlement includes waiver of the $560,000.00 workers’ compensation lien.

Luis and Kathy Vasquez are represented by Donald J. Nolan, Thomas P. Routh and Paul R. Borth, of Nolan Law Group in Chicago, Illinois.

Defendant Walsh Construction Company is represented by Thomas Boylan and Bradford Burton of Cassiday Schade, LLP in Chicago, Illinois.

Defendant Metra is represented by Michael McColl of Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff, PC in Chicago, Illinois.

Defendant CTE, Inc. is represented by C. Steven Tomashefsky and Jean Gallo of Stein, Ray & Harris, LLP in Chicago, Illinois.

Defendant Cotter Consulting is represented by Bruce Lyon and Angie Grove of LaBarge, Campbell & Lyon in Chicago, Illinois.

Defendant Knickerbocker is represented by John Prusik of Prusik Selby Daley & Kezelis in Chicago, Illinois.

CASE NUMBER:        04 L 011387 Vasquez v. Walsh Construction Co., of Illinois et al.

JUDGE:                       The Honorable Donald J. Suriano

Settlement Amount:       $ 6,250,000.00

Nolan Law Group is a Chicago based personal injury law firm concentrating in aviation accidents, construction accidents, brain injury litigation, medical malpractice, premises liability, product liability, and trucking accidents.

Questions should be directed to Thomas P. Routh of Nolan Law Group at 312.630.4000

Alpine Texas Air Ambulance Crash the Latest in a Legacy of Unsafe Practices

The fatal crash of a medical evacuation airplane is certain to be investigated with an eye to unrequited recommendation to improve aerial ambulance operations.

Shortly after midnight on 4 July, in clear weather, an O’Hara Flying Service-operated twin-engine Cessna 421 aerial ambulance took off from Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport, Texas, for a flight to Midland International Airport, Texas. The airplane was carrying patient Mary Folger, 73, who had broken her hip. She was accompanied by her husband, Guy Folger 78. Two flight nurses were aboard, Sharon Falkener and Tracy Chambers. Piloting the aircraft was Ted Caffarel, 59.

Crash scene at Alpine, Texas, of an O’Hara Flying Service air ambulance, killing all 5 aboard.

Crash scene at Alpine, Texas, of an O’Hara Flying Service air ambulance, killing all 5 aboard.

After an uneventful takeoff, the airplane experienced some sort of problem, perhaps engine related, and Caffarel was attempting a return to the departure airfield. About a mile short of the runway, a main landing gear wheel hit a rut in an open, muddy field. The airplane overturned at least once and burst into flames. There were no survivors.

In May 2009, another O’Hara Flying Service aircraft, also a Cessna 421, was substantially damaged during a forced landing following the loss of engine power shortly after takeoff near Alpine. The pilot was the sole occupant of this positioning flight and received minor injuries in the incident. It is not known if this earlier event involved the same Cessna 421 or one of its engines.

Between December 2007 and February 2010 a total of 41 patients and flight crew have been killed in EMS fixed-wing and helicopter accidents. Generally, EMS flight safety is about 30 times lower than it is for commercial airline operations.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be investigating this accident. The NTSB has a long record of concern about the safety of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) flights. A special investigation report was produced in 2006 that examined about 40 EMS accidents. In 2008 helicopter EMS accidents hit an all-time high, with 29 fatalities, prompting the NTSB to hold a public hearing on HEMS safety in February 2009. In addition to the four safety recommendations issued as part of the 2006 study, the 2009 forum produced an additional, and whopping, 21 recommendations. None have been fully implemented.

In February of this year, the NTSB increased the pressure to act on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by adding the improved safety of EMS flights to its “Most Wanted” list of still-to-be-enacted improvements. On that “Most Wanted” list was the recommendation to install Terrain Awareness Warning Systems (TAWS) on all EMS flying machines. A technical standard order (TSO) was released by the FAA for TAWS in December 2008, but the FAA has yet to take action requiring such a system to be installed on EMS aircraft and helicopters. The NTSB has characterized its moribund TAWS recommendation as “Open – Unacceptable Response.”

It is not known at this time if O’Hara Flying Service voluntarily installed TAWS on its EMS air ambulances. Since there was no FAA requirement to do so, there is reasonable suspicion that the accident airplane was not equipped with TAWS.

TAWS might have prevented this night time crash. TAWS may have alerted the pilot to his low altitude, preventing the premature contact with the ground as pilot Caffarel was returning to the runway.

The NTSB investigation will doubtless discuss the legacy of FAA-ignored recommendations as part of its investigation of this accident.

Of interest, the NTSB has never recommended two pilots in the cockpit. Single pilots like Caffarel frequently rely on a flight nurse in the co-pilot’s seat to manage part of the radio communications and to maintain a look out the cockpit for other aircraft or terrain.

In Canada, which has not suffered a single fatal EMS accident, two-pilot operation is required. Helicopter crash law firms can come into play in these types of incidents.

No commercial airline flights would be undertaken by a single pilot. Yet here is an EMS flight, with passengers, being flown by one pilot, who had an emergency such that he was attempting to return to the departure airfield.

Any number of NTSB reports on EMS accidents have served to justify its recommendation for TAWS, but TAWS is best employed with two pilots. TAWS alerts require one pilot to be looking out the windscreen while the other pilot tracks the dangerous rising terrain on the cockpit display.

And if he had an engine problem, Caffarel could certainly have used a co-pilot to manage the overall situation. With the resources of two pilots’ trouble shooting, and TAWS to avoid premature ground contact, the fiery crash just may have been avoided.

$500 Million Jury Verdict Leveled Against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Baxter International in Propofol Lawsuit

A District Court jury in Clark County Nevada ordered Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Baxter to pay a combined $500 million in punitive damages to a plaintiff  who contracted Hepatitis C during an endoscopy procedure after vials of the drug Propofol were allegedly reused on him. The verdict comes on top of the $5.1 million in compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff and his wife.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs originally offered to settle the case for $1.7 million but the offer was rejected by the defendants.

The bulk of the verdict was against Teva Pharmaceutical who was ordered to pay $356 million in punitive damages, while Baxter International was ordered to pay only $144 million (Teva manufactures Propofol and Baxter distributes Propofol).  

The lawsuit claimed that the plaintiff contracted Hepatitis C as a direct result of product misuse related to unsafe clinical practices from reuse of 50 mL vials of propofol.

Propofol is a short-acting, intravenously administered hypnotic agent often used during the induction and maintenance of general anesthesia. It is also commonly used as sedation for mechanically ventilated adults, and for procedural sedation during colonoscopy and endoscopy.

According to attorneysfor the plaintiff, the 50 mL Propofol vials manufactured and distributed by Teva and Baxter were packaged with inadequate warnings against re-using or “double-dipping’ for more then one patient.  Nurses were alleged to have administited multiple doses of the drug one patient, then used the remaining amounts of the 50 mL vial on other patients. The plaintiffs said  that Teva and Baxter knowingly manufactured and distributed 50 ML vials of propofol to these endoscopy centers, fully aware that only 10 ML vials were needed. The plaintiffs also maintained that this encouraged multi-dosing.

At least nine and possibly as many as 114 other patients were infected with the Hepatitis C during a 2008 outbreak. Additionally fifty thousand other patients were notified that they might be infected.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. is a global pharmaceutical company specializing in the development, production and marketing of generic and proprietary branded pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients. Teva is among the top 15 pharmaceutical companies and among the largest generic pharmaceutical companies in the world.  The Company enjoys a firmly established international presence, operating through a carefully tailored network of worldwide subsidiaries. Headquartered in Israel, above 80% of Teva’s sales, which totaled US$13.9 billion in 2009, are in North America and Europe. Teva has over 35,000 employees worldwide and production facilities in Israel, North America, Europe and Latin America.

Baxter International is valued at more than $26 billion and netted $2.2 billion in 2009.

Teva and the drug Propofol were also the subject of a recent recall. On Dec 10, 2009 the FDA warned Teva Pharmaceutical of “significant” manufacturing violations in their California manufacturing facility that makes Propofol. Inspectors found that Teva had not screened every lot of their raw materials for bacterial endotoxins. 

The FDA had previously issued an alert in June of 2007 regarding reports of clusters of patients who have experienced chills, fever, and body aches shortly after receiving propofol for sedation or general anesthesia.

Teva voluntarily recalled two lots of Propofol Injectable Emulsion 10 mg/mL 100 mL vials on 7/17/2009 due to presence of elevated endotoxins. Customers were instructed to cease using the product and return it to their distributor. A shortage of Propofol followed the 2009 recall.

Untreated Crohn’s Disease Blamed for Child’s Death: Jury awards Plaintiffs estate 1.7 Million in damages

A Cook County jury returned a verdict in excess of $1.7 million in favor of the Estate of a 10-year-old girl who died in the early morning hours of November 13, 2002, just five days after seeing a local pediatrician at Advocate Health Centers, Inc., with complaints of periodic rectal bleeding for about one year, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, and a bloody watery bowel movement that day.

The 10-year-old girl had been complaining of loose stools, vomiting, streaks of blood with nearly every bowel movement for the last year, and periodic abdominal pain. On November 8, 2002, after having a bloody, watery bowel movement, her mother called the pediatrician and rushed her to their office at the Advocate Health Center in Hyde Park to discuss what she believed were serious symptoms with the doctor. The pediatrician noted all of these symptoms in his chart in addition to noting that the child had an unexpected weight loss of thirteen pounds over the last few months. The pediatrician ordered blood studies and a stool culture and sent the child home with instructions to drink clear liquids.

A few days later, the lab tests were reviewed by the pediatrician and he diagnosed the child with mononucleosis. He confirmed this diagnosis in his chart as well as in a telephone message left for the child’s mother. In the meantime, however, in the early morning hours of November 13, 2002, the child collapsed. She was rushed to Trinity Hospital and transferred to Hope Children’s Hospital where notations were made that she had a gastrointestinal bleed and had blood coming from her rectum. Efforts to resuscitate her failed and she died in the hospital soon thereafter. The Cook County Medical Examiner reported the cause of death to be a massive gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to an inflammatory bowel disease known specifically as Crohn’s Disease.

At trial, the attorney for the Estate, Paul R. Borth of Nolan Law Group, presented evidence that, at the time of her single office visit with the local pediatrician, the child presented with the classic signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and the pediatrician should have referred the child to a pediatric gastroenterologist or admitted her to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Stephanie L. Stalter of Nolan Law Group also represented the Estate at trial.

“The pediatrician knew he could not diagnose or treat inflammatory bowel disease, so he should have sent the child to a specialist who could. This child could have survived if she had been referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist for prompt evaluation and treatment,” Mr. Borth stated.

The defense denied liability at trial and argued that referral to a gastrointestinal specialist or admittance to the hospital was unwarranted and that the blood tests and stool culture ordered by the pediatrician were the appropriate first steps in forming a plan for this child’s care. Defense experts, including a world renowned pediatric gastroenterologist from the University of Chicago who has been practicing in the field for over thirty years, and a professor of gastrointestinal pathology from the University of Chicago, opined that they had never seen a death from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to Crohn’s Disease, none had been reported in medical literature, and the autopsy results and independent review of pathology slides failed to demonstrate any signs of inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s Disease.

The defense and its experts argued instead that the child died from an acute bacterial stomach infection which came on sometime after the child’s November 8 visit with the pediatrician but before her demise on November 13. The defense called the Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at Children’s Memorial Hospital who testified that this infection killed her within 24-36 hours and there was no indication that inflammatory bowel disease had anything to do with the child’s untimely demise. James W. Kopriva and Trisha K. Tesmer from Cassiday Schade, LLP, represented the local pediatrician and Advocate Health Centers, Inc.

The plaintiff contended that the child’s symptoms were the classic symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, as admitted by the defense experts. “This case was won by obtaining concessions from the defendants’ experts,” said Mr. Borth. “No one could deny that this child presented to the pediatrician with these classic signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease at that November 8 visit. The question for the jury was whether that single visit to the pediatrician was enough to prompt a referral to a gastrointestinal specialist and whether some intervening infection was the cause of this catastrophe.”
On February 26, 2010, the jury awarded $1,706.125.48 to the Estate of the child for loss of society, and medical and funeral expenses. The jury reportedly found the local pediatrician negligent for failure to refer the child to a pediatric gastroenterologist on November 8, 2002.

The Honorable James P. Flannery, Jr., presided over the trial. No. 06 L 7302.

Two Dead In Royal Air Freight Plane Crash Near Chicago Executive Airport

WHEELING, Illinois – A Learjet on final approach to the Chicago Executive Airport in northwest suburban Wheeling crashed into the Des Plaines River Tuesday January 5th killing both the pilot and co-pilot.

The small cargo plane was registered to Michigan-based Royal Air Cargo and was empty at the time of the accident. The flight left Waterford, Michigan around 1: 00 p.m. and had been hired to pick up a load in Wheeling, Illinois later that afternoon.

Emergency personnel arrived on the scene shortly after the accident and had to travel on-foot to reach the wreckage, which was submerged in about four feet of water. Authorities from several neighboring communities — Wheeling, Mount Prospect and others — sent crews to the scene of the crash. Members of the National Transportation Safety Board arrived around 4 p.m. and said the investigation would begin Wednesday morning.

Royal Air is a family run business which owns and operates both passenger aircraft and cargo planes. They have approximately two dozen aircraft and are no stranger to regulatory scrutiny, accidents and operational violations. In 1999, a Royal Air aircraft was involved in a crash in Pittsfield, Mass., which has some similarities to Tuesday’s accident. On March 25, 1999, a Royal Air plane plummeted almost 12,000 feet in less than a minute before hitting the ground. In both accidents there were sudden losses of communication just before the planes crashed. Pilot Brian Templeton, of Waterford, Mich., was killed in the 1999 accident.

A lawsuit related to the 1999 accident accident was filed by Nolan Law Group on behalf of the family of pilot Brian Templeton. According to the lawsuit, Royal Air Freight.was negligent in performing maintenance on the aircraft, autopilot and de-icing system and in supplying information to support an alternate means of compliance for an MU-2 Airworthiness Directive. Other Defendants include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Honeywell and Mid-Continent Instruments.

Royal Air was also sued by federal authorities in 1999 for cutting corners on engine maintenance and inspections. Violations listed in the lawsuit included failure to conduct scheduled inspections of engines, propellers and wing flaps and failure to produce maintenance records. The company ultimately agreed to pay $250,000 in fines for maintenance and record-keeping violations as part of an agreement with the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Less than a year later, the FAA proposed $60,000 in additional fines against Royal Air for allegedly failing to investigate the backgrounds of 13 newly hired pilots.

American Airlines Flight 331 Likely a Preventable Accident

The December 22 American Airlines Flight 331 accident that injured more than 90 passengers has left numerous questions unanswered. However, even before the National Transportation Safety Board determines a probable cause for this accident, two things are clear from the initial reports: we are fortunate that, in light of the circumstances, the injuries sustained were not catastrophic; and, more troubling, this scenario was likely entirely preventable.

2009 has proven an interesting year for airline pilots and the flying public. In January, we witnessed the heroism of Captain Sullenberger averting disaster and gracefully landing US Airways Flight 1545 in the Hudson River. Cockpit voice recordings reveal a calm and measured reaction to a bird strike, as well as a calculated decision to land the plane in the Hudson. His professionalism, training, experience and judgment prepared him to successfully and artfully land a plane under trying circumstances.

A mere month later, Continental Air Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, crashed into a house during approach near Buffalo, NY, killing all 49 passengers and crew as well as one person the ground. Unlike Captain Sully, the pilots operating this regional flight were sleep deprived, sick, distracted and flying in inclement weather. They lacked sufficient training and resources, and were thus unqualified to be flying a plane under those circumstances.

In October, two Northwest pilots missed their destination by over 150 miles and failed to respond to air traffic controller attempts to reach them. The pilots claimed they “lost situational awareness” because they were distracted, reviewing a new company policy on a laptop. Speculation surrounding this incident has focused heavily on the theory that the pilots were in fact sleeping, again highlighting the issue of pilot fatigue.

Which brings me to the events of Tuesday night in Jamaica. The facts as they unfold have many similarities – both from an operational standpoint, as well as the aircraft type and runway environment – to Southwest Flight 1248 overran its runway in December 2005. In the Southwest accident investigation, the NTSB looked at factors such as decision to land, calculation of landing distance on a contaminated runway, company braking procedures, as well as pilot training.

Reports indicate that Tuesday’s flight in Jamaica had sufficient fuel to return to Miami, yet decided to land on the contaminated runway rather than turn around. The pilots were near timing out for their flight hours for the day, which raises the possibility of pilot fatigue impacting their decision-making process and their operation of the aircraft. Was the decision to land made based on the safety of the passengers or – considering the pressure of holiday travel, passenger frustration, pilot fatigue and cost – did the pilots decide that the safety risk was worth it?

The numerous accidents and incidents of 2009 raise serious questions about what is going on in the cockpit. The over arching question is a serious one: during these economic times, is aviation industry creating a culture of undervaluing risk to save money?

Make no mistake, there are numerous technical issues that may have contributed to the scenario that unfolded on Tuesday night, as well as the lack of preventative measures that could have mitigated damages. Moreover, the risk of human error is everpresent, and for that reason we must advocate also for additional safety measure that minimize the impact of such errors. Nonetheless, the events and mistakes outlined above are not discrete individual incidents; rather, they are evidence of a deteriorating safety culture. We are entrusting the safety of passengers to tired, overworked, and often under paid pilots who have insufficient training and distractions in the cockpit. Congress must act to ensure that the business interests of airlines do not outweigh the safety of our passengers. In 2009, Captain Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” was an exception in a year fraught with serious safety hazards. But the reality is, he was not lucky – he was prepared. In 2010, let’s make his example the rule.

Kingston weather poor at time of American 737 overrun

While details on the American Airlines Boeing 737-800 overrun at Kingston remain sketchy, meteorological data shows poor weather conditions during arrival.

American’s timetable shows flight AA331’s scheduled arrival time is 21:10, but the carrier says the aircraft landed at 21:22CST, equating to 22:22 local.

Meteorological information from Norman Manley International Airport indicated heavy rain and possible thunderstorm activity at this time.

The airport has a single runway, designated 12/30, which has a length of 2,716m (8,910ft) but its virtually-offshore location – on a thin strip of land south of Jamaica – leaves little overrun margin at either end.

There is no confirmation of which runway the aircraft was using. While there is an instrument landing system for runway 12, the weather data indicates that this would have required landing with a tail wind.

NOTAM information, dated today, shows that the airport has restated the runway distances available to aircraft, and introduced a displaced threshold on runway 30.

American states that two of the 148 passengers were admitted to hospital for observation, but all others have been released. The jet, arriving from Miami, was also carrying a crew of six.

Damage to the 737 is substantial. Its fuselage has fractured aft of the wing, its right-hand CFM International CFM56 engine has separated and the left wing-tip has snapped.

By David Kaminski-Morrow

Plane overshoots Jamaica runway; more than 40 hurt

KINGSTON, Jamaica – An American Airlines flight carrying 154 people skidded across a Jamaican runway in heavy rain, bouncing across the tarmac and injuring more than 40 people before it stopped just short of the Caribbean Sea, officials and witnesses said.

Jamaica Flight Overshoots Runway

Workers sift through debris surrounding the fuselage of American Airlines flight AA331 which crash landed overnight on a flight from Miami to Jamaica, just beyond the runway of Norman Manley International Airport, in Kingston Jamaica, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. More than 40 people were injured, at least 4 seriously, and there were no fatalities, according to officials, after the plane overshot the runway in Jamaica when it landed in heavy rain

Panicked passengers screamed and baggage burst from overhead bins as Flight 331 from Miami careened down the runway in the capital, Kingston, on Tuesday night, one passenger said.

The impact cracked the fuselage, crushed the left landing gear and separated both engines from the Boeing 737-800, airline spokesman Tim Smith said.

Crews evacuated dazed and bloodied passengers onto a beach from a cabin that smelled of smoke and jet fuel, passengers said. Rain poured through the plane’s broken roof, one said.

Some 44 people were taken to hospitals with broken bones and back pains and four were seriously hurt, airport and Jamaican government officials said. American Airlines said two people were admitted to the hospital and nobody suffered life-threatening injuries.

Heavy turbulence on the way to Jamaica had forced the crew to halt the beverage service three times before giving up, Pilar Abaurrea of Keene, New Hampshire, told The Associated Press by phone. The pilot warned of more turbulence just before landing but said it likely wouldn’t be much worse, she said.

“All of a sudden, when it hit the ground, the plane was kind of bouncing. Someone said the plane was skidding and there was panic,” she said.

U.S. investigators will analyze whether the plane should have been landing in such bad weather, Smith said, adding that other planes had landed safely in the heavy rain.

Passenger Natalie Morales Hendricks told NBC’s “Today” that the plane began to skid upon landing and “before I knew it, everything was black and we were crashing.”

“Everybody’s overhead baggage started to fall. Literally, it was like being in a car accident. People were screaming, I was screaming,” she said.

“There was smoke and debris everywhere,” after the plane halted, she said. “It was a mess. Everybody could smell jet fuel.”

Passenger Robert Mais told The Gleaner newspaper of Jamaica that he had heard the engine’s reverse throttle but that the plane didn’t seem to slow as it skittered down the runway.

The plane came to a halt about 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) from the Caribbean Sea and passengers walked along the beach to be picked up by a bus, Mais said. Rain came through the roof of the darkened jet and baggage from the overhead compartments was strewn about the cabin, he said.

The plane originated at Reagan National Airport in Washington and took off from Miami International Airport at 8:52 p.m. and arrived in Kingston at 10:22 p.m. It was carrying 148 passengers and a crew of six, American said. The majority of those aboard were Jamaicans coming home for Christmas, Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz said.

Smith said there were two “significant” cracks in the fuselage, and the engines are designed to separate from the wings during an accident as a safety measure.

A team of six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was traveling to Jamaica from Washington on Wednesday morning to assist a probe led by the island’s government, agency spokesman Keith Holloway said.

The airport reopened early Wednesday after officials had delayed flights because of concerns that the plane’s tail might be hindering visibility.

Four hundred passengers waited for their flights to be cleared for takeoff, Security Minister Dwight Nelson told Radio Jamaica.

Heavy rains that have pelted Jamaica’s eastern region for four days are expected to dissipate by Thursday. Authorities said the rains washed away a 7-year-old girl on Tuesday and led to a bus crash in which two people died.

By KIRK WRIGHT, Associated Press

Associated Press Writers Danica Coto and Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica; Carol Druga in Atlanta, Georgia; and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.

The Legacy of Flight 4184

(CHICAGO) (WLS) — Saturday marks 15 years since the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184 near Roselawn, Indiana.

The disaster claimed 68 lives and changed the aviation landscape.

In the aftermath of 4184, we learned a great deal about the science of freezing rain and an entire fleet of aircraft not well suited to fly in it. We learned about warnings that went unheeded, and air traffic control procedures that would forever change. That was the technical stuff. Now we look back at the human factor.

On a quiet county road just south of Roselawn stand 68 crosses. Each bears the name of a life lost when Flight 4184 crashed into a soybean field a stone’s throw away.

The Super ATR aircraft had been in a holding pattern for O’Hare. The pilots were unaware of a deadly ice build-up that would cause the plane to roll and plunge to earth. There was little left of the plane and passengers.

Victims’ relatives- deep in grief and hungry for information could get little – from the airline or the government.

“Flight 4184 exemplified not only the tragic nature, but the utter confusion that existed during that time period,” said Don Nolan, aviation law attorney.

The pilot’s wife waited days for her husband’s employer just to call her. Airline care teams visited victims’ families and asked about their dead relatives medical histories.

Some of the unidentifiable human remains were laid to rest in a nearby cemetery. The airline conducted a service, but didn’t tell the families.

“I was angry, I was upset,” said Terri Severin.

Terri Severin lost her sister and her four year old nephew – the only child on the flight. Four months after the crash, Terri summoned the courage to go to the site. She was numbed by what she found.

“I actually walked away with bags full of plane wreckage, personal effects and human remains that were still just scattered at the site,” said Severin.

Those discoveries – plane parts, body parts four months later – became, for the relatives, the ultimate indignity.

“There were unspeakable things that occurred,” said Jim Hall.

Fifteen years ago, Hall was the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB’s singular mission then was to find out what went wrong, and to make recommendations so it doesn’t happen again. But the families? That’s for somebody else.

“I was told this isn’t your business, and I said, ‘well my goodness. If I’m being paid by the taxpayers and we’re the agency that responds to these tragedies, it has to be our business,'” said Hall.

Hall wanted change. The families of 4184 demanded it, and in concert with families from other airline crashes, they pushed for it.

Two years later, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act was signed into law.

Today when there is a disaster, the NTSB immediately takes the lead in dealing with the needs of families from information to crash site access.

“Today, the airlines are obligated to have a disaster plan in place. Those types of plans didn’t exist 15 years ago,” said Hall.

There are now protocols for airline employee training, grief counseling, the handling of remains and the return of personal effects.

“I am still healing and it will probably be a life long journey,” said Severin.

Terry Severin has written a book and lectures on what happened after 4184. She says she learned long ago that corporations and government are not fail-safe resources in the wake of disaster.

“But I have learned that the average citizen can make a difference in turning a negative response into a positive outcome,” said Severin.

This Saturday, Terri and other 4184 relatives will return to the memorial, as they do every year, to remember, to celebrate 68 lives and, perhaps, to contemplate what’s changed since that tragic miserable night 15 years ago in a bean field just outside Roselawn, Indiana.

The NTSB’s family response model is now used internationally. But responses to disaster will always be imperfect.

Terri Severin one day opened a letter saying that the airline had some unclaimed personal effects from 4184. It turned out that a couple of her nephew’s toys were among them. Terri received that letter eight years after the crash.

For more information on Severin’s book, visit www.inthewakeofthestorm.com.

By Paul Meincke

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