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Plane Crash

49 Killed After Continental Plane Crashes Into House Near Buffalo

New York Times  Feb 13, 2009

A Continental flight from Newark to Buffalo crashed into a house about five miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Thursday night, killing 49 people, officials said.

The plane carried 44 passengers and a crew of 4, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. The Erie County executive, Chris Collins, later said at a news conference that 49 people, including one on the ground, were killed.

Mr. Collins said the plane, Continental Connection Flight 3407, crashed about 10:20, five minutes before it was due to land. It was on approach to land on Runway 23.

The house it crashed into was still engulfed in flames at 12:30 a.m., and Mr. Collins said that about 12 houses were evacuated and a limited state of emergency was declared.

Trooper John Manthey of the New York State Police said the plane went down in the hamlet of Clarence Center.

“It was just like a huge great big crash, a boom,” said Sandra Baker, who lives two blocks from the site of the crash on Railroad Street.

Both of her sons, volunteer firefighters, were at the scene.

“There was this banging sound” before the crash, she said. Then she said there was a boom, then a dark cloud and flames and the acrid smell of fuel and fire wafting through the air.

She said she believed the two people who lived in the home where the plane crashed made it out safely, but she was not sure; she did not know them personally, but said people had seen them watching their home burn with their neighbors.

Another woman who lives nearby described the sound before the crash as “a loud roar over my house.”

“It was like the whole house shook,” said the woman, Jennifer Clark, who also lives on Railroad Street. “Then there was silence.”

Ms. Clark said she looked out of her window and saw a ball of flames rising into the sky.

She woke up her husband and said, “I think a plane just crashed.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I feel bad for the people on the plane and their families. I feel bad for the firemen who have to recover the remains of those poor people.”

Ms. Baker described the town as “small town U.S.A,” a place that will reel from what she was sure would be the biggest tragedy the town has ever seen.

The plane went down in light snow, Mr. Lopatkiewicz said.

A joint investigation was being done by the State Police, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. A safety board team of investigators will arrive in Buffalo on Friday morning, he said.

Mr. Collins said families of the people on the plane had gathered at the Buffalo airport waiting for news.

At a command center where officials gathered after the accident, Chris Kausner told CNN that his sister was on the flight. He said she was connecting from Jacksonville, Fla., where she was a law student.

“Right now I’m thinking the worst,” Mr. Kausner said. “And I’m thinking of the fact that my mother has to fly in from Florida and what am I going to tell my two sons.”

When a reporter asked Mr. Kausner how his family is taking the news that his sister was killed in the crash he said: “I heard my mother make a sound into the phone that I had never heard before. So, not good.”

The plane was a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, a 74-seat twin-engine turboprop, operated by Colgan Airways, a feeder airline for Continental.

Colgan also flies as a feeder for US Airways and United Airlines. Colgan’s Web site said the airline operates 51 turboprops.

The last fatal crash involving a scheduled carrier in the United States was a ComAir regional jet in Lexington, Ky., in August 2006. The crew picked a too-short runway for takeoff; 47 passengers and 2 of the 3 crew members were killed.

Colgan, which has flown for Continental since 1997, is owned by Pinnacle Airlines Corporation, based in Memphis. Pinnacle has about 6,000 employees around North America, 1,800 of them in Memphis. The company has 142 regional jets and 51 turboprops. Pinnacle said last month that it had reached an agreement with Continental for Colgan to buy an additional 15 turboprops to fly as Continental Express airplanes.

Earlier on Thursday, Continental posted a notice on its Web site that its operations would be affected by the winter storm on the East Coast, including in Buffalo and the New York City area.

The storm caused flights to Newark Liberty International Airport to be delayed by more than five hours on Thursday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That was unusual even for that airport, which routinely has some of the worst delays of any destination in the country.

Early on Friday, the F.A.A.’s Web site showed delays at Newark of three hours and 50 minutes.

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49 Killed After Continental Plane Crashes Into House Near Buffalo

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