From The Vault: Comair flight from Cincinnati in 1997 crashed near Detroit, killed 29

CINCINNATI – Dexter Adams of Walnut Hills, a P&G product manager, rushed from a business meeting to make his flight to Detroit.

Darinda Ogden Nilsen, a stewardess on Comair Flight 3272, lived in Lexington but always visited her family in Fort Thomas when she flew out of CVG. She called her mom just before she boarded.

Adams and Nilsen and 27 others died that day -  Jan. 9, 1997 – when the Brazilian-made Embraer-120 crashed 18 miles short of the Detroit Metro Airport.

The crew, Capt. Dann Carlsen and First Officer Kenneth Reece, lived in Northern Kentucky. Adams, a West Point grad and young father of two, was the only other Tri-Stater on board.

Witnesses said the plane spun once and nosedived into a field, exploding in a fireball and making a crater 5 to 6 feet deep in the frozen ground.

Because the plane was flying through snow and bitter cold, ice on the wings was immediately suspected as the cause. But four other Embraer-120s – not in the Comair fleet – had crashed in warm weather, suggesting that a mechanical problem might have been at fault.

Rescuers, the NTSB and the FBI worked through bitter cold and winds to recover the bodies and the two flight recorders.

The crash occurred when a "very thin layer of rough ice"  accumulated on the wings as the plane descended from 7,000 to 4,000 feet before its final approach, the NTSB said.

In its final report, the NTSB blamed "a failure in the system," meaning everybody: the crew, the airline, the manufacturer and especially the FAA. It said the FAA had  failed to set adequate safety standards for icy conditions.

"Any time we see an accident like this repeating itself, on information we should have already learned, it's an indictment of the whole system," NTSB chairman James Hall said. "Icing needs to be aggressively approached, as wind shear was in the '80s, so hopefully we can eliminate it as a factor in future accidents."

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