Fifty killed in commuter plane crash in Clarence Center, New York

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Friday, February 13, 2009

A Continental Connection flight from Newark to Buffalo crashed into a house about four to six miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Thursday night, killing 50 people, officials said.

Continental Airlines Flight 3407 is a daily commuter flight from Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey to Buffalo, New York, operated under the Continental Connection brand by Virginia-based regional airline Colgan Air.

Map of the State of New York and its location within the United States.

The Buffalo News has reported that the plane, a Bombardier Dash 8 turboprop with tail number N200WQ has crashed into a home located at 6038 Long Street, not far from the Clarence Center Fire Hall in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence Center approximately 10:17 p.m. EST (03:20 UTC), Thursday, February 12, 2009. Three people were inside the house.

According to Becky Gibbons of New York State Police and Chris Collins County Executive in Erie County, New York, the total number of fatalities is 50, including 45 passengers, four crew members and a person on the ground, while a woman and daughter on the ground were injured, near the edge of farmland, about seven miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Karen Wielinski, age 57, and her daughter, Jill, age 22 were brought to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Williamsville where they are in stable condition in the emergency room. The father, Douglas C. Wielinski, 61 died from his injuries. Two volunteer firefighters are also being treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries. They are expected to be released later Friday morning.

The crew member names have been released as of 8:20 AM EST, and are listed as: Captain Marvin Renslow, First Officer Rebecca Shaw, Flight Attendant Matilda Quintero, Flight Attendant Donna Prisco, and Captain Joseph Zuffoletto who was an off-duty crew member.

One of the crash victims, Beverly Eckert, of Stamford, Connecticut and widow of 9/11 terror attack victim, Buffalo native, Sean Rooney, was coming home for her husband's 58th birthday celebration. Her sister, Sue Bourque noted to The Buffalo News, "We know she was on that plane and now she's with him." Chris Kausner has said his sister Elise, age 24, a law student, was on board the plane. "I'm thinking about the fact that my mother has to fly home from Florida and what I'm going to tell my two sons," he said.

The plane, which was carrying over 2.5 tonnes (5,000 pounds) of fuel, impacted a residence that was completely destroyed. Amid rain and sleet, the ill-fated plane exploded into a huge orange fireball, sparking a large fire which emergency crews had to contain. Twelve houses near the crash site were evacuated.

The aircraft in question was on approach to land at the nearby Buffalo Niagara International Airport when it disappeared from radar.

Cquote1.svg It sounded quite loud, and then the sound stopped. Then one or two seconds later, there was a thunderous explosion. The whole sky was lit up orange. Cquote2.svg

—Eyewitness David Luce and resident Bob Dworak

According to recordings from air traffic control, the pilot did not report any problem to approach control, and could not be contacted by the Buffalo tower after handoff. "Can other planes see anything?" asked the traffic controller, but no one has responded. The pilot's last comment was "Colgan Flight 3407," but there were no sounds of distress.

The Buffalo News has reported that crew members aboard the flight from Newark Airport reported mechanical problems as they approached Buffalo. Weather conditions were reported to be a wintry mix in the area, with light snow, fog, and 17 mile per hour winds.

In the 31-minute audio-recording there are conversations between the cockpit, air traffic control and other aircraft in the vicinity. Following take-off from Newark Airport, a female voice (pilot) in the 3407 plane's cockpit is heard informing air authorities that her aircraft was turning on approach to landing. The pilot stopped communicating at 2,300ft.

"This aircraft was 5 miles out, all of a sudden we have no response from that aircraft," the controller declares. 21 minutes and 45 seconds into the recording, the control tower informs a JetBlue Airlines: "...apparently we have an emergency, I'll have to get back to you," reported The Daily Telegraph.

Cquote1.svg We know she was on that plane and now she's with him. Cquote2.svg

—Sue Bourque, sister of 9/11 widow Beverly Eckert

"It was cold, snowing and dark but these planes are designed to fly in icy conditions. However, those conditions can be very fickle and if ice builds up on a plane it can be very difficult. At this time of year, when a pilot crashes approaching an airport that they will know well, the first thing you look at is the weather,” said David Learmount, of Flight International.

Continental Airlines Inc. said Colgan Air was in the process of collecting information. "Continental extends its deepest sympathy to the family members and loved ones of those involved in this accident. We are providing our full assistance to Colgan Air so that together we can provide as much support as possible for all concerned," said Larry Kellner, CEO of Continental Airlines since December 2004.

Colgan's N196WQ at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a Bombardier Dash 8, sister to the lost N200WQ.

The Bombardier Dash 8 a 74-seat is a twin-engined, medium range, turboprop airliner.

According to the Ascend Online Fleets database, Colgan, a company of about 1,100 employees has a fleet of 15 Bombardier Dash 8's, along with 3 Hawker Beechcraft 1900D and 38 Saab 340B turboprops. Flight 3407's airplane was less than one year old and had flown for only about 1,500 hours, said Kieran Daly, of the online aviation news service Air Transport Intelligence, saying that the doomed turboprop plane is one of the safest of its type.

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has permanently grounded its Dash 8s fleet after three crash landings during a two-month period in 2007 caused by faulty landing gear. "Confidence in the Q400 has diminished considerably and our customers are becoming increasingly doubtful about flying in this type of aircraft," said Mats Jansson, SAS president and CEO. "I have decided to immediately remove Dash 8 Q400 aircraft from service," he added.

"There is 'no indication of any security related event' that brought the plane down," said FBI spokesman Richard Kolko. Conditions of freezing drizzle, known as hard rime, were the most likely cause of the tragedy.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced that they would send a team to the crash site on Friday to begin the investigation. Lorenda Ward will serve as chief investigator with the assistance of NTSB Commissioner Steven Chealander and public affairs officer Keith Holloway. Ward has investigated several other plane crashes — including the 2006 New York City plane crash that claimed the life of New York Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle.

"We are deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic accident that occurred tonight in Clarence. Our focus right now is on supporting the first responders on the ground and their efforts to ensure the health and safety of people in the area," said Chris Lee, an Republican politician from Corning, New York, representing the 26th Congressional District of New York.

The tragedy is the nation's deadliest disaster since the Comair Flight 191 crashed in Lexington, Kentucky in August 2006. Delta Air Lines Flight 5191 was a scheduled U.S. domestic passenger flight from Lexington, Kentucky, to Atlanta, Georgia. On the morning of August 27, 2006, the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet 100ER that was being used for the flight crashed while attempting to take off from Blue Grass Airport in Fayette County, Kentucky, four miles (6 kilometers) west of the central business district of the City of Lexington.

Financially, Continental is faced with volatile fuel prices amid a slowdown from the weak economy. It has posted losses of $585 million for 2008.


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Wikipedia Learn more about Continental Airlines Flight 3407 and Clarence Center, New York on Wikipedia.
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