The selection, hiring and training of the pilot and first officer in a February airline crash that killed 50 people in upstate New York are at the top of the agenda of a public hearing into the air disaster.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday begins the second day of a three-day hearing on the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407. The flight was approaching Buffalo Niagara International Airport the night of Feb. 12 when the Dash 8-Q400 Bombardier, a twin-engine turboprop, experienced an aerodynamic stall. The plane rolled back and forth, then plunged into a house in a fiery crash.

The professional reputations of pilot Marvin Renslow and Rebecca Shaw took a battering during Tuesday’s session. A transcript of the cockpit voice recorder released by the board showed Renslow and Shaw engaging in chitchat about careers and her lack of experience flying in icy conditions during the plane’s final minutes even after they had noticed a buildup of ice on the windshield.

Officials for Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va., which operated the flight for Continental, acknowledged in response to questions from board members that Renslow and Shaw weren’t paying close attention to the plane’s instruments and were surprised by a stall warning. Nor did they follow the airline’s procedures for responding to a stall.

Further testimony and documents also showed that Renslow had failed several training tests before and after being hired by Colgan in 2005. He had been certified to fly the Dash-8 plane for about three months.

Paul Pryor, Colgan’s head of pilot training, acknowledged that Renslow didn’t have any hands-on training on the Dash 8’s stick pusher — a key safety system that automatically kicks on in response to a stall — although he had received hands-on stick pusher training on a smaller plane that he previously flew.

Fatigue is also an issue. Both pilots commuted to Newark, N.J., to make the flight — Renslow from his home near Tampa, Fla., and Shaw from her home near Seattle. Shaw also complained about congestion and may have been suffering from a cold.

The accident was the worst U.S. airline crash in seven years.


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