MERRILLVILLE | Families of those killed when American Airlines Flight 4184 crashed 20 years ago near Roselawn gathered Thursday to hear first responders and investigators talk about the legacies of the tragedy, which caused the deaths of 64 passengers and four crew members.
Greg Feith, a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator and the lead investigator on the Flight 4184 crash, said the investigators were motivated by making sure the victims didn’t die in vain.
“If I can use this in a positive way … to help other people so they don’t have to be in a room like this … that’s what I work for,” he said of his, and the full NTSB’s mission.
The investigation into Flight 4184 took about two years.
“There were some very serious complexities,” Feith said.
The crash was caused by a thin layering of ice on the wings, picked up as the plane flew in and out of clouds in a holding pattern on the way from Indianapolis to Chicago. The evening, Oct. 31, 1994, was cold and rainy.
“We didn’t understand this kind of icing,” Feith said. “We had to really work hard to understand it.”
He said the crash is still talked about among aviation investigators. He said he discusses it 20 or 30 times a year.
“What we developed (as a result of the investigation) set the tone for the past 20 years in the aviation industry.”
Charley Pereira, a former NTSB investigator and engineer who led the icing study, said he studied the entire history of aviation icing during his review.
On Thursday, he discussed significant shortcomings in federal regulations in possible icing conditions, and the problems with using the specific plane involved.
“It’s hard to imagine it could be that modern an era, and an airplane would be allowed to fly in conditions that could kill people,” Pereira said of the crash.
A report was issued in 1996 that led to significant changes in aviation practices regarding flying in conditions conducive to icing, certification of planes and pilots, and the sharing of weather-related information.
“We issued 26 safety recommendations in addition to the (nine) earlier ones we had issued on an urgent basis,” Pereira said.
Twenty-seven of those 37 have been acted on, he said, and two more, dealing with freezing drizzle and freezing rain, will be published in December, he said the FAA has told him.
Also speaking at Thursday evening’s forum was Raymond Chambers, director of the Newton County Emergency Management Agency and one of the first responders to the crash on that cold and rainy evening on Oct. 31, 1994.
He said the incident drew the community together, and drew in help from communities throughout the state and Illinois.
“We were in shock when this happened,” Chambers said. “Little Roselawn doesn’t expect things like this to happen.”
He said the state has instituted a variety of reforms, including regionalizing response to major incidents. After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Indiana was able to send several incident response teams.
“A lot of this came from this (Flight 4184) incident,” he said.
“We did our best for your, for your loved ones,” Chambers said.
Paul Sledzik, director of the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division, said another legacy of the Roselawn crash is the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, which defined new responsibilities for airlines and the government after a crash to provide information and support to family members, and to coordinate responding agencies.