CommutAir flight 4933, an Embraer EMB145XR airplane, sits mired in snow at the Presque Isle International Airport runway after a botched landing on March 4, 2019. The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the incident on July 12. Credit: Courtesy of National Transportation Safety Board

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A flight crew’s poor decisions caused a plane to miss and skid away from the Presque Isle International Airport runway in 2019, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

In its final report Tuesday — more than three years after the incident — the board blamed the crash on the crew’s decision to land when they couldn’t see the runway due to snowy conditions, as well as previous crews’ failure to report instrument landing system problems.

During a U.S. Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee hearing later that month, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talked about the incident and the importance of preventing more like it. The Federal Aviation Administration began working with Presque Isle and other small airports to implement or beef up satellite-based landing systems in a bid to improve landing accuracy.

The bad landing occurred on March 4, 2019, when an Embraer EMB145XR airplane flying to Presque Isle from Newark, New Jersey, attempted to land during snowfall. The plane missed the runway and bounced, skidding into a field to the right.

Two of the 28 passengers and one of three crew members on board suffered minor injuries. The aircraft was substantially damaged, and all passenger flights from the airport were halted until March 13 while officials investigated.

The plane was operated by CommutAir, which handled United Express passenger flights for the airport.

The safety board said Tuesday the probable cause was the flight crew’s decision to continue the descent when the runway wasn’t positively identified. Contributing factors were the first officer’s fatigue due to being sick with influenza and the failure of previous crews to report problems with the localizer, part of the instrument landing system, according to the 23-page report.

There was confusion in the cockpit as to whether the runway was visible. The pilot said she could see it while the first officer couldn’t see it, the report said.  

“When the first officer looked outside after the captain’s ‘runway in sight’ callout and did not see the runway, one or both flight crew members should have called for a go-around,” the report said.

Investigators also blamed confirmation bias, which is seeking information that confirms one’s belief. Instruments showed the airplane to be aligned with the runway, and the captain said she could see the runway. When the first officer looked directly out of the plane and couldn’t see the runway, he assumed the instruments and pilot were correct.

Though the first officer might have been fatigued, the captain was ultimately responsible for the flight. The captain had apparently intended for the first officer to focus on the flight director and not look outside for the approach lights or the runway.

“She demonstrated poor judgment and decision-making when she instructed the first officer to stay on the flight instruments as the airplane descended,” said the report.

As far as the instrument landing system problems, there were at least six pilots manning flights into Presque Isle in the days before the crash who encountered localizer misalignment, records said. None of them reported the issues either to the company or to the local airport.

Following the incident, Collins contacted the National Transportation Safety Board and asked them to investigate.

“This incident at the airport in Presque Isle was very disturbing and frightening for the passengers and crew who were involved,” Collins said in a statement Tuesday. “By thoroughly investigating all of the factors that led to the plane missing the runway, the final report issued by the NTSB can help ensure that this kind of preventable accident never happens again.”

The report did not provide the names of the flight crew, but said the captain’s training records revealed deficiencies in her abilities. She had received a disciplinary letter from another airline company. She received a notice of disapproval from the FAA and was under scrutiny by CommutAir for performance failures.