A commuter airliner whose crash late Thursday killed 50 people was in such a sharp nosedive when it hurtled into a residential area that only one house was damaged, local authorities said Saturday.
“All the damage was specific to that one property and that one structure,” Erie County Emergency Coordinator David Bissonette said at a morning news conference. “There was a garage to the immediate south that had a little bit of exposure damage, but other than that, limited to the one property.” A 61-year-old man in that house died — as did all 49 people aboard Continental Connection Flight 3407 — when the 74-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop pierced the property like an arrow into a bull’s eye. The man’s wife and daughter, who were in a different part of the house, survived. A two-square-mile area around the crash site, about six miles from the Buffalo airport where the plane was headed, remained sealed off Saturday as investigators sought to determine the cause of the crash. But the extent of the restricted area belied the concentrated force of the impact into the one house. Watch what investigators are saying » Residents and business people were kept out of the sealed-off area, escorted by police if they needed to return to their homes or shops for brief periods. “That [restricted area] will be going on for at least the next couple of days as we go through the investigative process at the scene,” Bissonette said. Authorities said it would likely take weeks to positively identify remains of the victims, with DNA testing required in many cases because of the intensity of the crash and subsequent fire.
Continental Airlines’ statements
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In the house, Karen Wielinski was watching television when she heard a plane making an unusually loud noise. “I thought to myself, if that’s a plane, it’s going to hit something,” she told Buffalo radio station WBEN. “And next thing I knew the ceiling was on me,” she said. Wielinski and her daughter Jill, 22, were in the front of the home, and they escaped the house with minor injuries. Wielinski’s husband, Doug, who was in the dining room, was killed. On Friday, federal investigators released information from the plane’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders indicating that icing may have been a major factor in the crash. The plane’s pilot and co-pilot discussed “significant ice buildup” on the plane’s windshield and wings as it descended toward the Buffalo airport, and the plane underwent “severe” pitching and rolling motions after the landing gear was lowered and wing flaps were set for the approach, Steve Chealander of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
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“The crew attempted to raise the gear and [reset] flaps shortly before the recordings ended,” he said. The Continental flight from Newark, New Jersey, operated by Colgan Air, crashed around 10:17 p.m. Thursday northeast of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Follow the plane’s path » While there was a mix of sleet and snow in the area, other planes landed safely at the airport about the time the flight went down. The crew of a Delta flight reported “rime icing,” a condition in which ice quickly builds up on the leading edge of the wings. A US Airways flight also reported icing. The NTSB’s Chealander said the flight crew reported that visibility was about three miles and there was snow and mist as they descended. The voice and data recorders indicated that the plane’s internal de-icing was on during the landing approach, he said. “A significant ice buildup is an aerodynamic impediment,” he added. Find out why » Witnesses described Flight 3407’s last seconds. Keith Burtis was driving about a mile from the crash site when he heard the impact. “It was a high-pitched sound,” Burtis said. “It felt like a mini-earthquake.” A ball of fire filled the night sky as the jet fuel erupted, Burtis said, and he saw a steady stream of firetrucks rush by as smoke billowed. At least nine volunteer fire departments responded. Watch iReporters’ close-up accounts » Among the passengers killed was Beverly Eckert, a widow of a September 11, 2001, attack victim. Other passengers included Alison Des Forges, senior Africa adviser for Human Rights Watch, one of her colleagues confirmed to CNN. Des Forges spent four years in Rwanda documenting the 1994 genocide and had testified about the atrocity and the situation in central Africa to Congress and the United Nations, according to the organization. Also on the flight was Susan Wehle, a cantor at Temple Beth Am in Williamsville, outside Buffalo, a synagogue official said. Colgan Air identified the crew as Capt. Marvin Renslow, the pilot; First Officer Rebecca Shaw, who was co-pilot; and flight attendants Matilda Quintero and Donna Prisco. In addition, an off-duty crew member, Capt. Joseph Zuffoletto, was onboard. “This is easily the saddest day in the history of our airline,” said Philip Trenary, the company’s CEO. Renslow was from Lutz, Florida, and Friday afternoon a minister at his church gave reporters a statement on behalf of Renslow’s family. “They are very proud of Marvin’s accomplishments as a pilot,” said Alan Burner, associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lutz. “They know he did everything he could to save as many lives as he could, even in the accident.” Shaw, the first officer, was a 25-year-old pilot from Maple Valley, Washington, who had been with the airline about a year, according to her family. “I know Rebecca has flown into Buffalo several times,” her mother, Lynn Morris, said Friday as Shaw’s family spoke with reporters. “We didn’t want her to come home at Christmas because of the snow but she said, ‘Mom, I’ve flown in snow lots of times!'” Morris said. Shaw was the youngest of four children, and her siblings stood by their parents and fought back tears. “We’re in shock,” Morris said. “We don’t understand. We kind of keep expecting Becky to come around the corner and say it’s not real.”