American Eagle Flight 4184

Greg Feith, Aviation Safety and Security expert and former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was the investigator in charge of the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184.

The aircraft, N401AM, was built by the Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR, and was operated by Simmons Airlines on behalf of American Eagle. American Eagle was the banner carrier regional airline branding program of AMR Corporation’s regional system, prior to the formation of the fully certificated carrier named American Eagle Airlines. The flight was en route from Indianapolis International Airport, Indiana to O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois. Bad weather in Chicago caused delays, prompting air traffic control to hold Flight 4184 over the nearby LUCIT intersection at 10,000 ft (3,000 m).

The captain of Flight 4184 was Orlando Aguiar, 29. He was an experienced pilot with almost 8,000 hours of flight time. Colleagues described Aguiar’s flying skills in positive terms and commented on the relaxed cockpit atmosphere that he promoted. The first officer of Flight 4184 was Jeffrey Gagliano, 30. He, too, was considered to be a competent pilot by colleagues and he had accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours. The two flight attendants were Amanda Holberg, 23, and Sandi Modaff, 27.

While holding, the plane encountered freezing rain – a dangerous icing condition where supercooled droplets rapidly cause intense ice buildup. Soon after, they were cleared to descend to 8,000 ft (2,400 m). After this descent the pilots were ordered to make another hold. During the descent, a warning sound indicating an overspeed warning due to the extended flaps was heard in the cockpit. After the pilot took action by retracting the flaps, a strange noise was heard on the cockpit voice recorder, followed by an uncommanded roll excursion which disengaged the autopilot. Flight recorder data showed that the aircraft subsequently went through at least one full roll with Aguiar and Gagliano able to successfully regain control of the rapidly descending aircraft. However, another roll occurred shortly thereafter. Fewer than thirty seconds later, contact was lost as the plane crashed into a soybean field near Roselawn, Indiana (coordinates: 41°5′39.84″N 87°19′19.92″W), killing all 64 passengers and 4 crew on board. The disintegration of the plane indicated an extreme velocity, and data recovered from the flight data recorder verified that the plane was traveling 375 knots (694 km/h) indicated airspeed at impact.There was no explosion or post-impact fire, as the high speed of the impact caused the fuel to disperse before it could ignite.The bodies of all on board were fragmented by the impact forces, therefore the crash site was declared a biohazard.

Flight 4184 was the first loss of an ATR 72 aircraft and remains the highest death toll of any aviation accident involving an ATR 72 anywhere in the world. Robert A. Clifford, a Chicago airplane accident attorney, represented 16 of the victims. As the trial was ready to begin, the defendants agreed to a record $110 million settlement and an apology from both the manufacturer and the airline in open court.

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