ATR-72 Cuban air crash
A leading aviation lawyer has urged Cuban authorities to quickly determine what caused the ATR-72 aircraft to crash in Cuba leading to the death of all on board.
The French-made ATR-72 twin turboprop crashed at a site near the Zaza reservoir in rural Cuba, 220 miles east of Havana.
Both the ATR-72 and ATR-42 have been involved in a number of fatal crashes including an ATR-42 incident as recently as 13th September 2010 in Venezuela and an ATR-72 crash in Koh Samui on 4th August 2009 injuring British and other passengers represented by Irwin Mitchell. The cause of both crashes is still under investigation.
Perhaps the most controversial incident involving an ATR-72 was the American Eagle Flight 4184 which crashed in Indiana, USA in October 1994 killing all 68 passengers and crew.
An investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause was the loss of control, attributed to a sudden and unexpected aileron hinge movement that occurred after formation of a ridge of ice.
The NTSB stated: “ATR failed to completely disclose to operators, and incorporate in the ATR-72 airplane flight manual, flight crew operating manual and flight crew training programs, adequate information concerning previously known effects of freezing precipitation on the stability and control characteristics, autopilot and related operational procedures when the ATR-72 was operated in such conditions.”
The NTSB also criticised the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation’s (DGAC’s) ”inadequate oversight of the ATR 42 and 72, and its failure to take the necessary corrective action to ensure continued airworthiness in icing conditions” and the DGAC’s failure to provide “timely airworthiness information developed from previous ATR incidents and accidents in icing conditions, as specified under the Bilateral Airworthiness Agreement and Annex 8 of the International Civil Aviation Organization”.
While it is unknown if icing was a factor in the latest crash in Cuba, the flight is understood to have been one of the last leaving Santiago de Cuba for Havana ahead of tropical storm Tomas, which was expected to pass between Cuba's eastern end and the western coast of Haiti on Friday. Cuban media said earlier that flights and train service to Santiago were being suspended until the storm passed. Ice can form on the wings of aircraft as they fly through clouds at high altitude.
The crew reported an emergency at 5:42 pm and subsequently lost contact with air traffic controllers. State media have so far given no details on what happened to the aircraft, saying only that the cause of the crash was being investigated.
Clive Garner, Head of Irwin Mitchell’s Aviation law team said today: “It is terrible to hear the reports emerging from Cuba about this latest ATR crash.
“The devastating result of this incident means it is obviously vital that the Civil Aviation Authority in Cuba works quickly and diligently to provide the families of those who have tragically lost their lives with answers as to how the crash occurred.
“It is not known yet if weather conditions, and particularly icing of the wings, played a part in this tragedy but bearing in mind the earlier American Eagle disaster and the previous criticisms of both ATR and the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation, this is clearly something which must be carefully considered.
“We are currently also acting for passengers seriously injured onboard another ATR -72 which crashed at Koh Samui in Thailand on 4th August 2009. In that accident the pilot was killed and several of our clients suffered very severe injuries. The aircraft was operated by Bangkok Airways, The cause of the crash is still being investigated.”
As recently as 13 September, the crew and 17 of the 51 passengers onboard the ATR-42 Aircraft (Flight 2350) were killed in a crash on a domestic flight from Santiago Mariño International Airport, Isla Margarita. Again, the cause is still under investigation.
Another ATR 72 operated by Tuninter crashed into the sea in controversial circumstances on 6 August 2005. The Tuninter Flight 1153 crashed 18 miles off the Sicilian coast while on a flight from the Italian town of Bari to Djerba in Tunisia. The aircraft was carrying 39 passengers and crew, 16 of those on board, mostly Italian nationals, were killed. The fuel indicator on the aircraft was reading incorrectly because it was designed to be fitted only the smaller ATR-42 aircraft. This meant that the crew did not detect that the aircraft was running out of fuel leading to it crashing into the sea near Palermo.
The twice weekly flight was from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Santiago de Cuba and then on to Havana. Many of the passengers on board were tourists, according to the passenger list which identified 40 Cubans, two Germans, nine Argentinians, one Spaniard, one French, three Dutch, one Italian, one Japanese, seven Mexicans, one Venezuelan and two from Austria.