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Commuter Plane Crashes Into House, 50 Killed in Buffalo

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Buffalo, NYIt may not turn out to be one of the worst air disasters in US history in terms of loss of life, but in view of the circumstances of the plane crash, and the events of the past three weeks, the horrific end to Continental Connection Flight 3407 last night will long be remembered : A quiet neighborhood northeast of Buffalo was devastated by the crash, and the erupting fireball of a Continental Connection Flight commuter plane crashed into a house, killing 50.

Plane CrashThere were 44 passengers on the plane, with a crew of 4 and one off-duty member of the flight crew. No one on the plane survived. A woman in the house into which the Bombardier Dash-8 twin turbo prop plane crashed also perished, but miraculously two other people in the house escaped with minor injuries.

In total, 50 people are dead.

In the wee hours of this morning New York Governor David Paterson issued a statement mourning both the crash and the loss of life. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating. And the neighborhood is in shock. A total of 12 neighboring houses were evacuated in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

The house into which the plane crashed, located at 6038 Long Street in Clarence Center, is part of the Town of Clarence and took a direct hit from the commuter plane, which was on approach for landing. Eyewitnesses said that the tail of the aircraft was the only recognizable piece of the plane remaining after the crash. Investigative officials said that the investigation will be long and arduous, and there is little left.

The plane was on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport Thursday night and was about five miles from its destination when the plane plowed into the house. Light snow was falling in the area at the time, and it is still too early to tell if weather played a factor in this particular crash.

It should be noted that a winter storm was affecting the area at the time of the crash. However, it is telling that earlier in the day yesterday Continental posted a weather bulletin on its web site, warning passengers and the public at large that its operations were expected to be affected by a winter storm blowing along the East Coast that was impacting Buffalo and the New York City area.

Flights to Newark Liberty International Airport were delayed by more than five hours yesterday, according to information provided by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Given that the airport often experiences some of the worst delays of any destination in the entire US, such delays for that facility yesterday was considered unusual—which suggests a fairly serious condition.

Witnesses said light snow was falling in the area when the plane slammed into the house Thursday night at about 10:20pm. By that time babies would have been in bed, students would have been wrapping up their homework, and parents would have already settled in for a little prime time TV, with a little more than a half hour to go before their late, local news.

Little did the folks know, on the ground in close proximity to the plane crash, that their neighborhood would turn out to be the lead story on WKBW Eyewitness News in Buffalo—and most other media outlets—after a plane in from Newark would not make it to the airport.

If there's any saving grace to this story, it could have been worse. Officials say it's a miracle, in such a densely populated area, that more people on the ground were not killed. The plane could have taken out many houses. Instead, it took just one house. One person on the ground, one of the occupants of the house, was killed. There could have been more.

Of course, advocates of safety argue that one death is too many.

Investigators have reported there appeared to be no stress noticeable in the voices of either the pilot, or the First Officer as the impending disaster approached. Seconds before the plane dropped from radar, air traffic controllers reported hearing no sense of impending doom, in the voice of the pilot.

It should also be noted that in spite of the sleet and snow that was falling, other flights were successfully landing at Buffalo Niagra International Airport at the time of the incident.

CNN reports that a Delta flight landed at Buffalo just a few minutes before Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed. The Delta flight, which touched down on the tarmac in Buffalo at 10:17pm, reported a condition known as 'rime icing,' in which ice quickly builds up on the leading edge of the wings.

It is not known what kind of on-board de-icing capability the Dash 8 Q400 Bombardier has, if any. According to the National Weather Service weather observation for Buffalo, there was light snow, fog and mist shortly before 10 p.m. Continental Connection Flight 3407 was originally scheduled to depart at 7:45 p.m., but was delayed.

In the wee hours of today, hours after the crash, the FAA web site showed continued delays at Newark, of a little less then 4 hours. It could be assumed, then that condiitons at Newark remained challenging hours after Flight 3407, already delayed, finally took off to meet, as it turned out, its tragic fate.

So far, the loss of Continental Connection Flight 3407 remains a mystery. Officials have indicated—and video backs this observation up—that the fire was so intense, there is no expectation to even gain access to the crash site, to begin investigation, until about noon today Eastern. That will have been nearly 14 hours after the crash.

The doomed plane was operated by Colgan Airways, a feeder airline for Continental, in addition to serving as a feeder for US Airways and United Airlines. According to information on the Colgan web site, the company operates 51 turboprop planes.

Colgan is owned by Pinnacle Airlines Corporation, which is based in Memphis. The sizeable company employs 6,000 people across North America, with 1,800 of them in the Memphis area. Pinnacle operates 142 regional jets and 51 turboprops, with an additional 15 turboprops on order to fly, by Colgan, as Continental Express airplanes.

It is not known what kind of safety record Colgan has prior to this crash, or the immediate, and prior mechanical history of the turboprop that crashed.

CNN was reporting this morning that its Buffalo affiliate, WGRZ claimed that among the names on the flight manifest of Continental Connection Flight 3407 was Beverly Eckert, the widow of 9/11 terrorist attack victim Sean Rooney. The report was that Eckert was en route to Buffalo for a weekend celebration of what would have been her late husband's 58th birthday. Rooney was a native of Buffalo.

The Buffalo News was reporting that Eckert was also to have taken part in the presentation of a scholarship award at Canisius High School that has been established in her late husband's honor.

This is the second plane crash to have happened in New York State this year, and it comes as the celebrations continue with regard to the heroic efforts of the flight crew of the US Airways jet that plunged into the Hudson River January 15th after a flock of Canada Geese clogged the plane's two engines. Without power, the pilot and co-pilot managed to avoid the densely populated area of Manhattan and brought the plane down, intact, in the Hudson River, avoiding certain disaster. All 155 people on board survived.

In a week that began with one flight crew celebrated as heroes, and feted on all the major networks for their part in a tale of miraculous survival when things go wrong in the air, the same week will end with the emergence of details of yet another flight that had anything but a happy ending.

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