A Continental Airlines commuter plane crashed early this morning, killing the 49 passengers and crew on board and one person who was in the house that it hit, landing as it did in a residential hamlet of Clarence Center, New York. Two others in the house were taken to hospital for non-fatal injuries.
The plane had been heading to Buffalo Niagara International Airport when it crashed for as yet undetermined reasons, though both black boxes have already been retrieved and investigations into the tragedy are underway.
Full report from New York Times:
“Federal investigators have retrieved both black boxes from a Continental Airlines plane that crashed late Thursday night near Buffalo on its way to Buffalo Niagara International Airport from Newark, killing 50 people. The boxes were in good condition and should be at the laboratories of the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington for analysis this afternoon, officials said. The plane, which crashed in the hamlet of Clarence Center, N.Y., carried 44 passengers, a crew of 4 and an off-duty crew member, officials said. All the people aboard the plane and one person in a house destroyed by the plane were killed, said Chris Collins, the Erie County executive.
Two others in the house, a 57-year-old woman and her 22-year-old daughter, suffered minor injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital, where they were treated and released, officials said.
Among those on the flight was Alison L. Des Forges, a historian and human rights advocate who documented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and has investigated related issues in Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo since then, according to Emma Daly, communications director of Human Rights Watch in New York City.
Also on the flight was Beverly Eckert, the widow of Sean Rooney, a Buffalo native who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
She was heading to Buffalo for a weekend celebration of what would have been her husband’s 58th birthday, and had planned to take part in the presentation of a scholarship award at Canisius High School that she had established in his honor, The Buffalo News reported.
Ms. Eckert was at the White House last week with President Obama as part of a meeting he had with relatives of those killed in the 2001 attacks and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
Speaking at the White House late Friday morning, Mr. Obama said Ms. Eckert “was an inspiration to me and to so many others, and I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead.”
He said that the crash reminds the nation of the fragility of life and the value of each day.
Continental Airlines said the pilot was Capt. Marvin Renslow, the first officer was Rebecca Shaw, flight attendants were Matilda Quintero and Donna Prisco and the off-duty crew member was Capt. Joseph Zuffoletto.
After the crash, other pilots in the area reported icing on their planes, but the airplane that crashed was certified for flying into icing conditions, and the crews of such planes are trained for icy conditions.
An intense fire at the site of the crash fueled by a natural gas leak initially made it difficult for the investigators to retrieve the black boxes, said Steven Chealander, an N.T.S.B. spokesman. The cause of the crash is not yet known and will be the subject of the investigation by 14 N.T.S.B. investigators, he said in a news conference.
Since the airplane is a newer model, the flight data recorder should have captured hundreds of data points each second about the performance of the airplane and its condition. While there was no communication from the crew during the flight that indicated a problem, the cockpit voice recorder could provide information from conversations and other sound that was picked up.Tony Tatro, who lives near the crash site, told CNN that he was driving home when the plane passed about 75 feet overhead, with its nose pitched lower than normal and its wings tilted. The plane struck the ground moments later, he said.
The plane, Continental Connection Flight 3407, crashed about 10:20, five minutes before it was due to land. The plane — a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 with 74 seats and twin turboprop engines — was on approach to land. It was operated by Colgan Airways, a feeder airline for Continental.
David Bissonette, the emergency coordinator for Erie County, speaking at a news conference about 4 a.m., said the plane made “a direct hit” on the house, which officials said was located at 6038 Long Street in Clarence Center, part of the Town of Clarence.
“It’s remarkable that it only took one house,” he said. “It could have easily taken the whole neighborhood.”
He said the only recognizable piece of the plane was the tail. The investigation, he said, would be “painstaking” because of the amount of damage to the plane and the house.
Mr. Collins said that about 12 houses had been evacuated after the crash and that a limited state of emergency had been declared.
The crash, which occurred as a light snow fell in the area, was the second major one in a month in New York State, coming weeks after the Jan. 15 forced landing of a US Airways jet into the Hudson River in which all 155 people on board were pulled to safety.
Sandra Baker, who lives on Railroad Street, two blocks from the site of the crash on Thursday, said: “It was just like a huge great big crash, a boom.”
Both of her sons, volunteer firefighters, went to the scene.
“There was this banging sound” before the crash, she said. It was followed by a boom, then a dark cloud and flames and the smell of fuel and fire.
Another woman who lives nearby described the sound before the crash as “a loud roar over my house.”
“It was like the whole house shook,” said the woman, Jennifer Clark, who also lives on Railroad Street. “Then there was silence.”
Ms. Clark said she looked out of her window and saw a ball of flames rising into the sky.
She woke up her husband and said, “I think a plane just crashed.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I feel bad for the people on the plane and their families. I feel bad for the firemen who have to recover the remains of those poor people.”
Ms. Baker described the town as “small-town U.S.A,” a place that will reel from what she was sure would be the biggest tragedy the town has ever seen.
A joint investigation was being conducted overnight by the State Police, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Buffalo on Friday morning.
Mr. Collins said families of the people on the plane had gathered at the Buffalo airport waiting for news.
At a command center where officials gathered after the accident, Chris Kausner told CNN that his sister was on the flight. He said she was connecting from Jacksonville, Fla., where she was a law student.
“Right now I’m thinking the worst,” Mr. Kausner said. “And I’m thinking of the fact that my mother has to fly in from Florida and what am I going to tell my two sons.”
When a reporter asked Mr. Kausner how his family was taking the news, he said: “I heard my mother make a sound into the phone that I had never heard before. So, not good.”
In the neighborhood where the crash occurred, flames rose high above the bare trees and neat houses. Neighbors rushed from their homes to the carnage, through a swell of emergency lights and sirens.
Brendan Biddlecom, who lives a few blocks from the crash, made his way with other neighbors.
“I didn’t get too close,” Mr. Biddlecom said. “I didn’t want to get too close. It was clear what was going on.”
By 2:30 a.m., the police had set up checkpoints around the neighborhood. The smell of burning fuel and rubber was still thick in the air.
Scott Bylewski, the Clarence town supervisor, said he heard the crash from his house, about a half mile away. “I took a look from my house and the sky was red,” Mr. Bylewski said at the 4 a.m. news conference. “I know when I go home I’m going to give my wife and kids a kiss.”
In a statement released early Friday, Gov. David A. Paterson said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were on board, and with the people of the Buffalo metropolitan area.”
Colgan, the operator of the plane, also flies as a feeder for US Airways and United Airlines. Colgan’s Web site said the airline operates 51 turboprops.
The last fatal crash involving a scheduled carrier in the United States was a ComAir regional jet in Lexington, Ky., in August 2006. The crew picked a too-short runway for takeoff; 47 passengers and 2 of the 3 crew members were killed.
Colgan, which has flown for Continental since 1997, is owned by Pinnacle Airlines Corporation, based in Memphis. Pinnacle has about 6,000 employees around North America, 1,800 of them in Memphis. The company has 142 regional jets and 51 turboprops. Pinnacle said last month that it had reached an agreement with Continental for Colgan to buy an additional 15 turboprops to fly as Continental Connection airplanes.
Earlier on Thursday, Continental posted a notice on its Web site that its operations would be affected by the winter storm on the East Coast, including in Buffalo and the New York City area.
The storm caused flights to Newark Liberty International Airport to be delayed by more than five hours on Thursday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That was unusual even for that airport, which routinely has some of the worst delays of any destination in the country.
Early on Friday, the F.A.A.’s Web site showed delays at Newark of three hours and 50 minutes.”