Investigators said Tuesday that Continental Connection Flight 3407 was, starting with a captain and co-pilot who were chatting so continuously that they failed to notice their turboprop plane was slowing down.
"It was as if the flight was just a means for the captain to conduct a conversation with this young first officer," said Robert Sumwalt, the National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman.
Three times the cockpit's control stick automatically pushed forward to head off an imminent stall, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. But each time the startled captain, Marvin Renslow, pulled back, the opposite of what he should have done, raising questions about his training.
The copilot, Rebecca Shaw, had commuted cross-country the night before and was sick, raising questions about fatigue.
The captain's record showed he had failed five flight tests, called "check rides," raising questions about hiring standards at the smaller regional airlines like Colgan that major carriers increasingly rely on to fly commuter routes.
"These are issues that we've seen time and time again and unfortunately it has taken 50 more lives for us to focus additional attention on these issues that have not been addressed," said Deborah Hershman, the chairman of the NTSB.
The FAA, which promised to take action, is still drafting new pilot fatigue rules and new training requirements for regional airlines. Those rules will not be implemented for months or even years, despite insistent lobbying by victims' family members like Jen Quimby, who lost her father, Brad Green, on Flight 3407.
"I feel good things can come of this. If there can be a purpose in all of this, you can try and find some peace in that," Quimby said.
With the F.A.A. hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape, family members now hope Congress can pass laws that could be enacted immediately.