ATC Audio: American Eagle Jet Loses Control

Filed Under: American

I first read about this story a couple of days ago, though it wasn’t until I listened to the ATC audio that I truly realized how severe this situation was.

On Wednesday, November 6, 2019, a Republic Airways Embraer 175 operating a flight on behalf of American Eagle had a serious situation. The flight was operating from Atlanta to New York LaGuardia as AA4439 with a total of six people.

That’s the first shocking detail here — given that there were two pilots and two flight attendants, that means there were just two passengers. WOW.

Anyway, the plane took off from Atlanta’s runway 9L, and the crew declared an emergency about four minutes after takeoff, noting that they had a trim runaway (essentially they weren’t able to control the climb of the plane).

The pilot noted that they were in a stall situation, and that they couldn’t keep the pitch down (meaning that they couldn’t angle the nose down). The pilot also mentions that they had been “fighting the aircraft.”

I got goosebumps when I heard the audio of the pilot saying “we’re in a stalling situation… agh!”

The plane kept climbing even though the pilots tried to stop it. The plane eventually made it up to nearly 15,000 feet, before the pilots managed to regain control and have the plane return to Atlanta. Apparently they managed to disable some of the controls, and make it so that the first officer’s controls were working.

The plane landed back in Atlanta just under 20 minutes after it took off, with no injuries or damage.

You can listen to the full ATC audio here:

These pilots deserve huge credit for their fast thinking and handling of this situation. What absolute professionals, along with the air traffic controller as well.

Given the trim runaway and stall “situation,” I can’t help but wonder if the results might have been different if there weren’t just two passengers onboard? The plane could have had 74 more passengers, so with bags and everything that could have potentially been an extra 15,000+ pounds. The higher the weight the higher the stall speed. I’d be curious if any jet pilots could chime in on whether that could have impacted the performance in a situation like this?

Regardless, I’m so relieved this ended the way it did, and huge credit goes to the pilots for their handling of this.

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

Comments
  1. @Ben
    “That’s the first shocking detail here — given that there were two pilots and two flight attendants, that means there were just two passengers. WOW.”

    Is your comment (particularly the “WOW”) related to AA’s load factor on the flight, or something else?

    Nice of you to add:

    “I’m so relieved this ended the way it did, and huge credit goes to the pilots for their handling of this.”

  2. Should say the higher the weight the lower the stall speed. In other words it would stall at a much lower speed because it is carrying a higher angle of attack.

    Regardless, they did a great job job keeping the airplane under control and returning safely to land.

  3. @JDH

    Any danger of answering the question?

    Ben (like many of us) is just relieved that perhaps the weight (or lack of ) may have I increased the response time. Which isn’t a reflection on the pilots efforts.

  4. 2 Passengers? HAHAH

    That’s one way to fly private and still get your miles…. Or maybe airline employees?

    But on a serious note… Great job to everyone involved!

  5. Embraer commercial division is already Boeing’s, not surprised about MCAS. Outsourced $9/hr will take away more lives.

  6. I’m an E175 pilot. Very surprised. My airline teaches to immediately turn off the sys 1 and 2 cut outs as an Immediate Action Item. I’m shocked Republic doesn’t. It seems like they fought the airplane. I would have immediately called for the Sys 1 and 2 cutout buttons to be pushed in. Would have landed but would have been no where near stalling and would have had to fight the airplane. Those cutout buttons would have solved the issue and sounds like it did once the pilots pushed them in.

  7. Also. The pilot said something at the end that doesn’t make sense. He said they are in Direct Mode now. Turning off the automatic trim systems shouldn’t necessarily move the airplane into direct mode. The Flight Control Modules should still be giving protections. Im only speculating and at the end of the day I’ll give these pilots hero status because they landed safe. But sounds like some miscues and misunderstandings on their end for it to have gotten to the point of loss of control. This should have been an emergency return to ATL but the loss of control should have been very momentary.

  8. Why don’t all of you just respect the pilots for what they did. Sorta like a bunch of armchair quartbacks saying well that QB won the game but I would have done it better! You weren’t there. I’m a guy who is not a pilot or a QB!!

  9. They have two flights most week nights from ATL to LGA, about 8pm and about 9pm. The earlier is on an Embraer RJ190, with a capacity of 99 passengers. I wonder if a friendly mechanic tipped them off that there might be a problem with the later flight, so it might be a good idea to rebook anyone already at the airport – and they had enough seats to accommodate most of them.

  10. They’re the largest operators of E-170s in the United States. I’m sure their training was sufficient. They pretty much wrote the book on how to fly those planes.

  11. @Ryan
    I thought those system cut off switches removed the higher level functions, essentially putting into a direct mode. Regardless, they survived and I’m sure the largest operators of 170s trains their pilots proficiently and accordingly.

  12. I’m not sure this applies in this case, but in the 737 NG, if we flew with few or no passengers, we had to have 1000# of ballast loaded into the forward-most baggage bin. Otherwise, we’d be out of the balance envelope.

  13. ‘Given the trim runaway and stall “situation,” I can’t help but wonder if the results might have ……..

    I’m not a jet pilot but I believe your question raised a good point about the weight from passengers and cargo being a factor in the stall speed. I think that they were all fortunate that the aircraft was lighter with no weight and balance issues, and perhaps also at an altitude where the air is not so thin and had enough distance above ground to make a recovery.

  14. I’m not a jet pilot but I believe your question raised a good point about the weight from passengers and cargo being a factor in the stall speed. I think that they were all fortunate that the aircraft was lighter with no weight and balance issues, and perhaps also at an altitude where the air is not so thin and had enough distance above ground to make a recovery.

  15. I’ve got a lot of years on this airframe as a line check pilot for a 121 carrier. While I wasn’t there, I’m not sure the pilots actually did a good job at all.

    First off: activation of pitch trim cut off switches should be a memory item for an airman whether it is company policy or not.
    These guys could have recognized this problem and solved it within 5 seconds- but they didn’t. It STILL my not be their fault, though, a lot of regional carriers make the training curriculum “too easy” to allow more folks to pass training and get to the line. Believe me, the federal standards for practical tests aren’t that great and even less well enforced by in-house exam authority. A highly developed primate could pass a type ride.

    Second: assuming the situation were recognized in a timely fashion before airspeed dropped far below normal (btw this airplane has NO aural/cas warning for a trim runaway so the pilots would have to be watching their ship like hawks), if they were having issues keeping the nose down a steep bank can keep the ship on altitude while allowing the engines to keep it on speed. Now that technique can be used only as long as airspeed hasn’t decayed too much that bank angle would bring you into the ballpark of critical AoA) You could hold altitude and airspeed by adjusting the ship’s bank angle rather than allowing the speed to decay so far. Ive done this in the sim in the ERJ170, CL65, and the 747- no problem at all.

    Third: the 170/175 has higher level pitch functions so the bird would have reacted the same way to this situation with 76 passengers and bags (though it wouldnt have climbed as high)

    This should be a wake up call for regulators and airlines and pilots- the post Colgan 3407 regulatory honeymoon is over and airlines across America are just lowering standards (or ignoring them) to keep pilot staffing levels under control. US airlines are not nearly as safe as you think…

  16. I agree with Matt , as I said earlier as an E175 Pilot as well, I would have held in the A/P disconnect button and pushed in those SYS1 and 2 cut offs. That would have been the end of the problem. I still would have declared an emergency and landed in ATL given I’m flying with no trip. As I said earlier they claimed to be in direct mode which makes no sense UNLESS another situation occurred which the QRH required it. We simply don’t have all the info yet. Direct mode is high level functions and you want that especially when you already had a near-stall situation.

  17. You guys are totally missing the part where a DL pilot on tower frequency tipped them off to how to solve the problem and regain control of the aircraft….

  18. Santos—- that is the worst part of the transmission. Delta pilots can be so amazing but more than any other airlines they have some Grade-A jackasses

    That was pure evil. They weren’t trying to help

  19. @michael Spencer, I hope you’re not a pilot or maybe misspoke. As weight increases so does stall speed. AoA does go up with weight if speed remains constant and the wing always stalls at the same AoA. So as weight goes up, so does AoA bringing the aircraft closer to stall with less margin to decelerate or increase load factor

  20. Wow! Two passengers is crazy. What’s crazier is that I was originally booked onto this flight too. I missed my connecting flight from Miami though so I had to rebook. It would have been great to share the plane with 2 other passengers, but of course I’m happy I wasn’t onboard.

  21. @michael spencer – will echo Chuck. Increased weight/load factor increases stall speed because a higher angle of attack is needed to provide more lift to support the load factor.

  22. I am also an E170/175 pilot and Ryan and more importantly Matt i think have it wrong. I dont think it was a pitch trim runaway as I know people at Republic and pressing the autopilot/trim disconnect switch is the memory item for that issue. It was more likely a jammed control colum that they thought was a pitch trim runaway as at the end of the audio they say they have “switched the controls to the FO’s side”. I would assume that means they pulled the Elevator Disconnect Handle. Or it may have been a combination of the two. Granted this is speculation as only those two pilots know what really was happening and what checklists were or weren’t done.

    As any airline pilot knows QRH and QRC procedures are good but they take time to run and when your airplane is pitching up uncontrollably and ATC keeps yapping in your ear it can be task saturating. Something check airmen tend to forget in the simulator. Its only natural when you only fly once a month at best.

    These pilots did an amazing job and were trained well to do so allowing six people to go home to their families.

  23. Commenting on the actions of any pilots in an emergency situation by other pilots is considered unprofessional. Real airline pilots would know this. Except for those douche bags on CNN.

  24. Just commenting. Not meaning to judge. I agree we don’t know anything yet. Alex you may be 100% correct. Whatever happens, I just believe Immediate Action Items need to be just that….immediate. Unless it really took both of them to control the airplane then of course that comes first.

    My apologies. No one should be flying anyone else’s airplane. It’s good conversation and made me practice going through all my IAIs again.

  25. Listening to the ATC, the pilots reported they shifted controls to the FO position and then everything worked so apparently there was a problem with the Captain’s controls, perhaps a bad switch or short circuit. Good flying all around.

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