The commuter plane that crashed into a home near Buffalo, N.Y., was new and had a clean safety record, officials said Friday, leaving investigators few immediate clues about why it suddenly plunged just minutes before its planned landing, killing 50 people.
The twin turboprop aircraft Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J. was coming in for a landing when it went crashed Thursday night about five miles short of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. It was the first commercial airline crash in the U.S. in 2 1/2 years.
The cause of the disaster was under investigation, but other pilots were overheard around the same time complaining of ice building up on their wings a hazard that has caused major crashes in the past.
The twin turboprop aircraft Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J. was coming in for a landing when it went down in light snow and fog around 10:20 p.m. Thursday about five miles short of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Witnesses heard the plane sputtering before it plunged squarely through the roof of the house, its tail section visible through flames shooting at least 50 feet high.
“The whole sky was lit up orange,” said Bob Dworak, who lives less than a mile away. “All the sudden, there was a big bang, and the house shook.”
Two others in the house escaped with minor injuries. The plane was carrying a four-member crew and an off-duty pilot. Among the 44 passengers killed was a woman whose husband died in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Federal investigators found the black box recorders in the plane’s tail that could shed light on what went wrong, but they said the smoldering debris was still too hot to remove any bodies. The recorders were on their way to Washington for examination.
The 74-seat Q400 Bombardier aircraft, also known as the Dash 8, in Thursday’s disaster was operated by Colgan Air, based in Manassas, Va. Colgan’s parent company, Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tenn., said the plane was new and had a clean safety record.
The nearly vertical drop of the plane suggests a sudden loss of control, said William Voss, a former official of the Federal Aviation Administration and current president of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Voss suggested that icing or a mechanical failure, such as wing flaps deploying asymmetrically or the two engines putting out different thrust, might have caused the crash, he said.
“It’s an aircraft that’s had flawless service,” said Philip H. Trenary, who heads Pinnacle Airlines and Colgan. “So no, there have been no indications of problems with the aircraft.”