Roselawn, Indiana Plane Crash of American Eagle Flight 4184

On October 31, 1994, American Eagle Flight 4184 departed Indianapolis for Chicago. Because of delays related to the bad weather, air traffic control in at O’Hare airport placed the ATR 72 in a holding pattern. During the holding pattern, the plane experienced freezing rain and ice began to build up on the wings. While descending, the plane went into an uncontrolled roll, which disengaged the auto pilot. The crew was unable to regain control of the plane as it rapidly descended toward the ground. Within two minutes of the initial roll, the plane crashed into a farm field near Roselawn, Indiana, killing all 68 people on board.

NTSB Findings on Cause of Roselawn Crash

As with any major airplane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began an immediate investigation into the crash. As part of its investigation, the NTSB learned the ATR family of aircraft had known and reported history of control problems during icing conditions. In its final report, the NTSB blamed ATR, the French aviation regulatory agency, and the FAA. Specifically, the NTSB blamed ATR for failing to properly disclose the control problems of its planes during icing conditions (which was never mentioned in the ATR operating manuals). The NTSB blamed the French regulatory agency for failing to take the necessary corrective action to ensure the airworthiness of ATR aircraft in icing conditions. Finally, NTSB blamed the FAA for its own failure to properly oversee the airworthiness of ATR aircraft and for its failure to update aircraft certification requirements to reflect hazardous freezing rain conditions. The report did blame the plane crew.

Lawsuit and Trial Preparation on Roselawn Crash

The lawsuit filed by the families of those died in the crash blamed ATR and American Eagle (and its affiliates). The suit against ATR included allegations the manufacturer defectively designed its aircraft with a propensity for losing control during icing conditions and its pilot manuals failed adequately explain the danger. The suit against American included allegations the airline failed to properly test the plane for icing problems, failed to properly train its pilots on flying in icing conditions, and carelessly operated the plane in poor weather conditions.

Some families settled their cases during the middle of the lawsuit. Others settled on the just before trial. Part of the settlement included a public apology from Amerian.

Full Extent of ATR’s Long Standing Problems

In 1996, the long standing problems with ATR aircraft were more fully revealed when a whistleblower, Stephen Fredrick (later fired by the airline), wrote a book entitled “Unheeded Warning – The Inside Story of American Eagle Flight 4184”. Published in 1996 by McGraw-Hill, Mr. Fredrick’s book discusses not only the extent of aircraft’s longs standing dangers, but also the politics involving the airline industry and federal agencies. (The crash was also featured on the Discovery Channel program The New Detectives.)

Safety Changes Since Roselawn American Eagle Crash

Today, the vast majority of U.S. airline operators no longer use ATR planes in areas prone to icing conditions. The airlines have taken steps to better train their pilots about the performance characteristics of ATR aircraft during unusual conditions. ATR has enlarged its de-icing boots which make it harder for ice to form on the wings in the even of freezing rain. Their pilot operations manuals are also more explicit on how to fly the plane during difficult conditions. Finally, the FAA issued over a dozen Airworthiness Directives in an attempt to further prevent icing related accidents involving ATR planes. These directives include major revisions in pilot operating procedures in icing conditions and physical changes to the area of the de-icing boots.

Written By: Jason M. Kroot, Personal Injury Attorney, Kroot Law, LLC.

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