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Doomed NY flight operator defends pilot training

Wreckage from a plane crash is loaded onto a flatbed trailer for removal at the scene where Continental Flight 3407 crashed into a home in Clarence, N.Y., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.

The operator of Continental Connection Flight 3407 that crashed in Buffalo last week defended both its training programs and the pilot after investigators said they would examine whether the crew overreacted when an automatic safety system sensed the plane was slowing down dangerously.

Investigators say the pilot pulled back on the plane's controls after the safety system tried to push the nose downward to gain speed and increase lift.

Lorenda Ward, the National Transportation Safety Board's chief investigator, said one of many possibilities is the pilot pulled back too hard, bringing the plane's nose too high up in an attempt to prevent the stall and dooming the aircraft.

Flight 3407 was about 1,600 feet above the ground at the time and aviation safety experts said this week that it might have been too low to recover from a stall.

Colgan Air, which was operating the flight, said in a statement Wednesday that its "crew training programs meet or exceed the regulatory requirements for all major airlines."

"Colgan has instilled a systemic culture of safety throughout our organization that is rooted in significant investment in crew training, systems, leadership and equipment," the Pinnacle Airlines subsidiary said in the statement.

Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman, said it is still too early to definitively say what brought the plane down. So far, the NTSB has not found anything mechanically wrong with the plane.

The pilot's actions are being scrutinized to determine whether he could have acted differently. The pilot did not disengage the autopilot after encountering what was noted to be "significant ice" -- disregarding recommendations from the NTSB and his own airline.

Ward said the NTSB probe will also look at whether the recommendation should be a requirement, something NTSB has supported for years.

As in every crash, Capt. Marvin Renslow's experience and training are being closely studied. Colgan Air said he was qualified "fully in accordance with all applicable Federal Aviation Regulations."

Colgan Air said Renslow had 3,379 total hours of flight experience and had 172 hours of formal training on the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft, the one that crashed.

He also had thousands of hours flying a similar, smaller turboprop plane, which experts say would have prepared him for handling the Dash 8 in icy weather.

The NTSB also will look into how many hours the crew flew in the seven days before the crash, how much rest they had and what they did in the 72 hours before the accident. That includes a look at whether they drank any alcohol or took drugs.

The agency also will study whether the wintry weather played a role in the crash. The full investigation is expected to last at least a year.