NTSB Identification: DCA01MA031.
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Scheduled 14 CFR operation of COMAIR INC
Accident occurred Monday, March 19, 2001 in West Palm Beach, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/18/2002
Aircraft: Embraer EMB-120, registration: N266CA
Injuries: 28 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On March 19, 2001, about 1825 eastern standard time, an Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica, S/A (Embraer) EMB-120, N266CA, operated by Comair Airlines, Inc., as flight 5054, encountered icing conditions while in cruise flight at 17,000 feet mean sea level (msl) and departed controlled flight, descending to an altitude of about 10,000 feet. The pilots recovered control of the airplane and diverted to West Palm Beach, Florida, where they landed without further incident. The 2 flight crewmembers, 1 flight attendant, and 25 passengers were uninjured, and the airplane sustained substantial damage to the elevators and the horizontal stabilizer. Flight 5054 was operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 as a scheduled international passenger flight from Nassau International Airport, Bahamas, to Orlando International Airport, Florida.

The flight departed in visual meteorological conditions (VMC). In postaccident interviews, the captain stated that while in VMC, the airplane flew normally. Flight data recorder (FDR) data indicate that about 7 minutes before the upset occurred, the airplane was at about 17,000 feet msl, with the autopilot engaged and airspeed stabilized near 200 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS). These data indicate that beginning about 1818, the airspeed slowed to 185 KIAS over a 1?minute period as the autopilot began trimming airplane nose-up (ANU) to maintain altitude. The airspeed then decreased to about 137 KIAS over the next 3 minutes. The airplane continued to maintain a constant altitude as the autopilot trimmed the airplane from about 0 to about 7 degrees ANU. The first officer stated that immediately before the upset occurred, he switched the leading-edge deicing system inflation cycles switch from "light" to "heavy" and the propeller deicing system cycles switch from "norm" to "cold" because he saw "more ice accumulation than he had ever seen" on the wing and spinner. FDR data indicate that when torque indications for both engines were about 55 percent and the airspeed was about 141 KIAS, the autopilot was disengaged. The airplane then pitched down and rolled about 80 degrees to the left, then rolled back to near level. During the next 20 seconds, engine torque increased to about 98 percent on both engines, the airplane rolled about 110 degrees to the left, returned to level flight, rolled about 130 degrees to the right, returned to level flight, then rolled 360 degrees to the right before returning to near wings level, with torque on both engines stabilized at about 22 percent. The airplane's behavior during the upset is consistent with an ice-induced stall event. The first officer stated in postaccident interviews that the stick shaker and aural stall warning, which is part of the airplane's stall warning/protection system, activated but did not indicate whether it was before, during, or after the upset. The Safety Board's investigation could not precisely determine whether or when the stick shaker and aural stall warning activated.

Meteorological data at the time of the accident indicate that Comair flight 5054 may have encountered an area of icing conducive to the formation of super-cooled large droplets (SLD). The EMB-120 is not certified for flight in SLD conditions. FDR data indicate that airspeed had decreased to only about 137 KIAS before control of the airplane became difficult and altitude was no longer maintained. However, according to the Embraer EMB-120 Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) performance section, the airplane stalling speed is about 115 knots calibrated airspeed for an airplane at the accident airplane's approximate gross weight at the time of the event (23,800 pounds).

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

the failure of the flight crew to maintain airspeed during an encounter with severe icing conditions, which resulted in an inadvertent stall, loss of control, and structural damage to the airplane.

Full narrative available

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