February 16th, 2009

RISK-i Update: Plane Crash, Buffalo, New York

Posted at 2:00 PM ET

Type of Event: Plane Crash
Date of Event: February 12, 2009
Location: Buffalo, NY
Number Killed: 50
Damage Estimate: -
Insured Loss Estimate: Hull reportedly insured for USD19 million. Significant liability claims are also expected.
Registration Number: N200WQ
Insured: Reportedly include Global Aerospace Underwriting Managers Ltd and United States Aviation Insurance Group
Carriers: Includes Colgan Air


A Continental Airlines commuter plane carrying 49 passengers and crew on a domestic flight crashed near Buffalo, New York, on February 12, 2009, killing everyone onboard and one person on the ground, according to officials. Reports said the aircraft was carrying 44 passengers, four crew members and an off-duty pilot. The twin turboprop Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft, operated by Colgan Air for Continental Airlines, was flying from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Buffalo Niagara International Airport when it went down at around 22:20 local time (03:20 UTC on February 13, 2009). Reports said the crash occurred about 4 miles (6 kilometres) from Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Insurance Day said the insured value of the aircraft was USD19 million and significant liability claims are expected from the crash. According to Insurance Day, Continental Airways is part of an airline insurance group placement that comes under the umbrella of Northwest. Northwest merged with Delta Airways in October 2008 and although Colgan was operating the flight for Continental, market sources said the hull and liability was covered under a Northwest-Delta plan. Sources added that Northwest’s lead insurer is Global Aerospace Underwriting Managers Ltd and Delta’s lead insurer is United States Aviation Insurance Group. Insurance Day said this has led to the insurers splitting the liability for the incident.

Witnesses said they heard the plane sputtering before it crashed into a house on its approach to Buffalo Airport, sparking a fiery explosion. Four people were injured on the ground, including a mother and daughter inside the house that was hit. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Continental Connection Flight 3407 went down in light snow and fog. Television footage showed the house engulfed in flames and the tail of the plane sticking out of the ground. Twelve other homes were evacuated around the crash site in Clarence Center, a suburb of Buffalo, but these reportedly only sustained superficial damage.

It is not yet clear what caused the crash but the NTSB said it has started its investigation. The NTSB said problems for the aircraft occurred when the pilots lowered the landing gear and tried to set the wing flaps to slow the aircraft for landing. Investigators said the crew of the plane discussed “significant” ice build-up on the aircraft’s windshield and wings before the crash. Investigators added the plane’s de-icing system was turned on 11 minutes after the flight left Newark and remained on for the entire flight.

According to reports, the plane was on autopilot during its approach to the Buffalo Airport. The plane underwent violent pitching and rolling seconds before impact, with passengers experiencing twice the normal force of gravity. The plane dropped 800 feet (245 metres) in five seconds shortly before impact, and the final motions of the aircraft were so drastic that the plane’s autopilot automatically disengaged and alarms were triggered. Investigators said they had not found “severe icing” conditions prior to the crash, which would have required the pilots to fly the plane manually.

Reports said the crashed aircraft was a new plane and delivered to Colgan Air, the regional airline operating as Continental Connection, on April 16, 2008. The plane had no reported incidents before it crashed and this is the first fatal crash involving this particular aircraft, according to reports. Continental and Bombardier, the maker of the plane, sent condolences to victims’ families and said it had dispatched its own product safety and technical teams to the site to assist the NTSB investigation.

Colgan is owned by Pinnacle Airlines Corporation and has 142 regional jets and 51 turboprops. According to its website, the airline launched the 74-seat Q400 service from Newark Liberty International Airport in February 2008. The incident in Buffalo is the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since August 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner crashed on takeoff in Kentucky.

Sources: CNN News, BBC News, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters News, MarketWatch, Insurance Day, Business Insurance

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Guy Carpenter’s Instrat® department provides CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email CAT.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Instrat also provides RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email RISK.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

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