American Eagle Flight 3378 - February 19, 1988

Last updated: March 13, 2018


  • Introduction
  • Maps
  • Narrative Long
  • Narrative Short
  • Victims
  • Photographs
  • Memorial
  • Sources


This page presents information about the emergency response on February 19, 1988, to the crash of American Eagle Flight 3378 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina.

Read NTSB accident investigation report (PDF, 7.7MB)


Crash site with 1999 aerial photo    Crash site with 2017 aerial photo

See also interactive Google Map.

Narrative Long

Read detailed narrative (PDF, 12 pages).

Narrative Short

On February 19, 1988, American Eagle Flight 3378 crashed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The Fairchild Metro III SA227-AC was carrying ten passengers and two crew. It was departing to Richmond. After taking off to the south and banking to the west, a normal maneuver, it reached an altitude of several hundred feet. The plane subsequently dropped and crashed about 5,100 feet west of the midpoint of runway 23R, striking the surface of Brier Creek Reservoir about 100 yards from shore, and then crashing on the west side of the reservoir, located just off airport property in the corporate limits of Cary, along Nelson Road.

The plane apparently skimmed the surface of the lake, struck the bank, and then crashed into tall pine trees. Witnesses reported hearing an explosion and seeing a fireball. The plane crashed at 9:27 p.m. The airport fire department was notified at 9:31 p.m. and arrived at 9:39 p.m. They found debris spread in an area 150 yards long and 50 yards wide. Most of the aircraft completely disintegrated. Small fires were also found at the scene, and promptly extinguished by personnel. There were no survivors.

Durham, Cary, and Morrisville fire departments were dispatched, along with EMS and rescue squads. Eight off-duty members of the airport fire department were also called back, to assist with the crash and overall staffing. Law enforcement agencies included RDU, Wake County Sherriff’s Office, and Raleigh Police Department. Army National Guard members were also called to the scene, and helped enforce the scene perimeter from visiting onlookers. Airport operations were temporarily halted, and runway 23R was reopened at 10:15 p.m. By the end of the evening, a temporary morgue was established at the nearby National Guard Armory, and the scene was sealed from visitors until investigators arrived in the next day.

On Saturday, February 20, a three-member team from the office of the State Chief Medical Examiner arrived to recover and identify body remains. They were assisted by a six-person team from the State Bureau of Investigation. Also on Saturday, thirty investigators from four arrived including ten from the NTSB Safety Board. The remaining twenty were from the FAA, AvAir, and the Airline Pilots Association. Airport firefighters, including off-duty personnel recalled to duty, assisted investigators and medical examiners that day.

On Sunday, February 21, Six Forks Rescue Squad brought boats to the scene, and began dragging operations to recovery debris from the reservoir. The following day, Wake County Parks & Recreation begin draining the lake. Salvage operations were suspended on Tuesday, as draining continued. By Thursday, February 25, most of the investigation team had departed. They expected nine to twelve months to determine probably cause. The following day, the head of the investigation team and a half-dozen remaining members left.

Draining of the reservoir was completed in early march. The full NTSB report was issued in December. Probable cause was failure of flight crew to maintain proper flight path because of first officer’s inappropriate instrument scan, the captain’s inadequate monitoring of flight, and the flight crew’s response to perceived fault in airplane’s stall avoidance system. Cause of death for all determined as massive and traumatic injuries sustained during impact.



  • Richard W. Ross, 44, Richmond
  •  Christopher Bage Wells, 13, Garner
  • Terry H. Bower, 41, Richmond
  • Marcia B. Ferris, 33, Chesterfield County, VA
  • Michael E. Grindle, 25, Richmond
  • John V. Oliver, 54, Richmond
  • Henry A. Lewis, US Army stationed at Fort Lee, VA
  • Glenn Bogitsh, 33, Nashville
  • Libby Bogitsh, 27, Nashville
  • Roger Wilcox, 43, Bradenton, FL.


  • Captain Walter R. Cole, 38, Raleigh
  • First Office Kathy P. Digan, 28, Raleigh.


Images used with permission of The News & Observer - Raleigh, N.C.

Roadblock on Nelson Road at Aviation Parkway, one mile from plane crash. February 19, 1998. Robert Willet photo.   Airport officials make statement about plane crash, February 19, 1998. Center is Theresa Damino. Chris Seward, photo.   Emergency vehicles on Nelson Road [?], February 20, 1998. Gary Allen photo.
February 20, 1993. Scott Sharpe photo.   NTSB press conference, February 20, 1998. Dorton photo.   View of reservoir and crash site, February 20, 1988. Scott Sharpe photo.
Camera operators on the opposite bank of the reservoir, February 20, 1988. Gary Allen photo.   Crash site, February 20, 1988. Gary Allen photo.   Refrigerated truck for victim remains, February 20, 1988. Gary Allen photo.
Investigators at crash site, February 21, 1988. Gary Allen photo.   Workers at crash site, February 21, 1988. Gary Allen photo.   Spectators near crash site, February 21, 1988. Robert Willett photo.
Security guard Matthew M. Burkhardt, who witnessed the nearby crash, February 21, 1988. Robert Willet photo.   Searching the reservoir near the crash site using Six Forks Rescue Squad boats, February 21, 1988. Gary Allen photo.   Searching the reservoir near the crash site using Six Forks Rescue Squad boats, February 21, 1988. Gary Allen photo.
Airport police providing security near crash site, February 21, 1988. Robert Willett photo.   Airport crash truck near crash site, February 21, 1988. Robert Willett photo.   Airport emergency vehicle near crash site, February 21, 1988. Robert Willett photo.
NTSB officials at crash site. February 23, 1988. Harry Lynch photo.   Crash site, February 26, 1988. Robert Willett photo.   RDU police officers T. E. Butler (left) and W. E. Beatty, February 26, 1988. Robert Willett photo.


See this page of information.


They include:

  • Herald-Sun, various articles. See below.
  • National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Report, February 19, 1988.
  • News & Observer, various articles. See below.
  • Mike Legeros fire department historical research.
  • Morning Herald, various articles. See below.
  • Raleigh Times, various articles. See below.
  • USA Today, see below.
  • WCEMS News, January 1995.
  • Wikipedia - Flagship Airlines Flight 3379, via
  • WTVD newscast, December 13, 1994, via

Sources - Newspapers

Morning Herald (Durham):

  • February 20, 1998 - "12 Feared Dead in RDU Crash"
  • February 21, 1998 - "Review of Flight 3378 Begins"
  • February 21, 1998 - "Crash Victims American Eagle Flight 3378"
  • February 22, 1998 - "1st Office May Have been Flying Plane Before Crash"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Brier Creek Drained For Crash Probe"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Two Agencies Play Different Roles In Investigating Airplane Crashes"
  • February 24, 1998 - "Safety Board Ends Probe At Site of Fatal Plane Crash"

Herald-Sun (Durham):

  • February 20, 1998 - "Examiners prober RDU crash"

News and Observer (Raleigh):

  • February 20, 1988 - "12 die in crash at RDU"
  • February 20, 1988 - "AVAir plagued by financial uncertainty before crash"
  • February 20, 1988 - "Other fatal crashes at RDU since 1965"
  • February 21, 1988 - "Investigators seek clues to RDU crash"
  • February 21, 1988 - "Friends, relatives mourn flight victims"
  • February 21, 1998 - "Investigators sift through wreckage"
  • February 21, 1998 - "Security guard left 'sick' by crash"
  • February 21, 1998 - "At least 7 people killed in crashes across U.S."
  • February 21, 1998 - "Relatives, friends waiting in Richmond could only grieve"
  • February 22, 1998 - "Co-pilot thought to have flown plane"
  • February 22, 1998 - "Commuter plane's pilot died 'doing what he loved best'"
  • February 22, 1998 - 'Black boxes' could have provided clues in crash, officials say
  • February 23, 1998 - "RDU crash second in weeks involving Fairchild plane"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Co-pilots often at helm of aircraft, pilot says"
  • February 23, 1998 - "'Precious kid' from Garner buried by his family, friends"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Plane's record shows many problems"
  • February 24, 1998 - "American Airlines plans to add 'black boxes' to commuter planes"
  • February 24, 1998 - "Federal experts call RDU crash hard to explain"
  • February 25, 1998 - "Fatal crash at RDU stymies investigators"
  • February 25, 1998 - "Chief crash investigator has an unshakable love of flying"
  • February 26, 1998 - "Crashed plane had history of problems"
  • February 26, 1998 - "Crash-site duties completed for most of investigating team"
  • February 27, 1998 - "Work crew follows NTSB team in clearing RDU crash debris"

Raleigh Times:

  • February 22, 1998 - "Probers believe co-pilot at controls"
  • February 22, 1998 - "Downed plane's pilot died 'doing what he loved best'"
  • February 22, 1998 - "Official: Recorders would have given clues"
  • February 23, 1998 - "No link discovered between 2 crashes"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Co-pilot at helm is not unusual, other pilots say"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Family, friends say farewell to 'precious kid,' crash victim"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Medical examiner: Nothing could have helped victims"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Crashed plane had record of problems"
  • February 23, 1998 - "Experts say AVAir problems won't affect money claims"
  • February 24, 1998 - "Eagle planes may get 'black boxes'"
  • February 24, 1998 - "Federal experts say RDU crash hard to explain"
  • February 25, 1998 - "RDU crash still stymies investigators"
  • February 26, 1998 - "Crashed plan had history of problems"
  • February 26, 1998 - "Crash-site duties completed for most of investigating team"


Search Mike Legeros

Spot an error on this page? Please let me know, just click my name below...

Copyright 2019 by Michael J. Legeros