A Continental commuter plane coming in for a landing nose-dived into a house in suburban Buffalo, sparking a fiery explosion that killed all 49 people aboard and a person in the home. It was the nation’s first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in 2 1/2 years.
Witnesses heard the twin turboprop aircraft sputtering before it went down in light snow and fog around 10:20 p.m. Thursday about five miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J., came in 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. By morning, with the rubble still smoking, the task of retrieving remains had not yet begun.
Erie County Emergency Coordinator David Bissonette said it appeared the plane “dove directly on top of the house.”
“It was a direct hit,” Bissonette said. “It’s remarkable that it only took one house. As devastating as that is, it could have wiped out the entire neighborhood.”
President Barack Obama voiced condolences, saying “our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones.”
No mayday call came from the pilot before the crash, according to a recording of air traffic control’s radio messages captured by the Web site LiveATC.net. Neither the controller nor the pilot showed concern that anything was out of the ordinary as the airplane was asked to fly at 2,300 feet.
At the time of the last radio contact, the controller said the plane was three miles from a radio beacon that stands about four miles northeast of the airport. The controller told the crew to turn the plane left to intercept a radio signal that would guide it to Runway 23. A female pilot aboard the plane calmly repeated the instructions back correctly.