Most plane crashes cannot be traced to a single cause – a string of mishaps usually occurs resulting in the tragedy. For this reason, plane crashes can rarely be traced solely to ice problems. Nevertheless, they often act as indirect triggers in plane crashes.
Helicopters are significantly more vulnerable to icing problems.
Airframe Icing vs. Ice Ingestion
Airframe icing occurs when ice forms on the surface of a plane. This phenomenon can disrupt a flight in two ways. First, it can increase the weight of plane, sometimes to a great extent, causing the plane to lose lift. Second, it can change the geometry of the plane, thereby disrupting the delicate balance of airflow that keeps the plane aloft. Airframe icing can also clog engine intake. Certain types of small planes, such as the Cessna 208 and the Mitsubishi MU-2, are particularly susceptible to airframe icing.
Ice ingestion occurs in helicopters when water or water vapor enters the air inlet and freezes. It only take a few grams of ice to completely shut down a single-engine helicopter and cause it to crash. The LTS101 and the Turbomeca Arriel helicopter engines seem to be particularly vulnerable to ice ingestion problems.
Icing and ice ingestion can cause crashes in the following ways:
- Airframe icing causes the pilot to turn off the autopilot, as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), thereby increasing the danger of pilot error while manually piloting the plane
- Airframe icing causes the plane to lose lift, thereby prompting the pilot to overcompensate by bringing the nose up too far. If the nose comes up far enough, the pilot could lose control of the aircraft.
- Failure to inspect a helicopter engine air inlet leads to ice ingestion and complete loss of engine power during the flight.
Investigating the Crash
The NTSB is responsible for investigating all civil aviation crashes that occur in the United States. Although you can expect an NTSB investigation of a large commercial airliner crash to be thorough and objective, the NTSB’s limited resources prevent it from lavishing the same attention on the crash of smaller aircraft, which are the very aircraft that are the most vulnerable to icing problems. If you plan on filing a claim arising from a crash in which icing may have been a contributing factor, you may need to supplement the NTSB investigation with your own investigative resources. Fortunately, most plaintiff aviation accident lawyers take clients on a “no win, no pay” basis and pay investigation fees up front.
Comparative Fault and Joint and Several Liability
When a plane crash can be traced to more than one cause, you may need to file claims against more than one defendant. A crash may be caused by a combination of a negligent pilot response to airframe icing, for example, plus a manufacturing defect in the engine’s air intake valve. When this happens, the courts in most states will apportion fault between two or more defendants, resulting in separate judgments against each of them. In states that allow joint and several liability, you can still collect the entire judgment from any one of the at-fault defendants.
Plane crash cases can be complex and drawn out, often requiring the services of not only a seasoned aviation lawyer but also an investigator, and accident reconstruction specialist and expert witnesses. Your choice of attorney could turn out to be the most important decision you make during the entire case.