The crash of Continental Express flight 2574 in 1991 (see also this question) was caused by faulty maintenance to the de-icing boot on the left horizontal stabilizer. This became detached in flight, leading to violent movements of the plane which caused the left wing to fail and the right wingtip to detach. Ultimately, the horizontal part of the T-tail detached and the plane crashed.

The NTSB report says (page 34, with essentially the same statement repeated on page 37):

The airplane then rolled to the right at a roll rate exceeding 160 degrees per second. The Safety Board believes that the lift produced by the intact right wing produced the extreme roll.

The report also says that the initial failure of the left stabilizer caused a 10–15° roll to the right, which makes sense: the loss of downforce from the stabilizer meant the left side of the plane was generating more net lift than the right. But how would the subsequent failure of the left wing produce a roll to the right? The natural assumption would be that, with the right wing generating lift and the left wing not, the plane would roll to the left.

Possibly relevant is that the left wing failed but didn't detach from the plane: the plane crashed right-way-up with the left wing folded under the fuselage and the inboard portion of the right wing.


The following is how I would interpret the information given in the report - this is to some extent speculation, also because the FDR plots in the report don't seem to cover that part of the incident. I'm very intersted in how other people interpret the data.

The report states:

The airframe remained intact (minus the leading edge), and the load factor fluctuated around -2 g, for approximately 6 l/2 seconds. [...] airplane heading moved 20 degrees nose left, and a 15 degree right roll attitude was reached at the end of this period.

The fact that the left leading edge of the stabilizer was lost and that the heading is moving left makes me believe that the aircraft was in some kind of a slip with the right wing further forward in the wind. The negative load factor of -2 g indicates a lot of negative load on both wings - apparently more than the structure tolerated. Both wings "stalled negatively"1 at this point. Now if one wing goes missing (aerodynamically, even if not physically), it can't provide the downforce any more and the total momentum will cause the side of the aircraft where there is still a functioning wing to rotate down.

Because the right wing was probably pointing slightly forward (even more so if the left wing produced a lot of drag while or after failing, which seems likely), a roll to the right would make the aircraft more or less tumble over its own wing, with the wing upper surface pointing increasingly towards the airflow around a 90° right roll position. The resulting drag explains a very fast roll to a ~180° position. Starting from "10 to 15 degrees right wing down"2, that's about 160°.

Short version: Because the wings had negative load and were primarily drag surfaces at this point, everything is reversed. The side of the aircraft with less drag rolled towards the incoming airflow. In a negative angle of attack attitude, that's up in the aircraft coordinate system, causing a roll to the right.

1 3.1: Findings; 7. p. 48 (56 in pdf)
2 p. 20 (28 in pdf)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That makes a lot of sense. Your suspicion that the aircraft was sideslipping with the nose left (so right-wing advanced) is confimed by the report on p36 (second paragraph). $\endgroup$ – David Richerby May 3 '15 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, and the point is that lift is force perpendicular to the direction of airflow. Normally, this is an upward force but, because of the configuration of the aircraft, it was a downward force. The right wing generating downward lift obviously rolls the plane to the right. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby May 3 '15 at 13:28

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