2 Residents In Plane-Struck Home Survive

The wreckage of Continental flight 3407 lies amid smoke at the scene after crashing into a suburban Buffalo home and erupting into flames late on Feb. 12, 2009, killing all 48 people aboard and at least one person on the ground, according to authorities. AP Photo/Dave Sherman

A commuter plane dropped out of the sky without warning and nose-dived into a suburban Buffalo house in a fiery crash that killed all 49 people aboard and one person in the home.

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, New Jersey - 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.

One person in the home was killed, and two others inside, Karen Wielinski, 57, and her 22-year-old daughter, Jill, escaped with minor injuries.

Karen Wielinski told WBEN-AM in Buffalo that she was watching TV in the family room in the back of the house when she heard a noise. She said her daughter was watching TV in another part of the house.

"Planes do go over our house, but this one just sounded really different, louder, and I thought to myself, 'If that's a plane, it's going to hit something,"' she told the station. "The next thing I knew the ceiling was on me."

Wielinski says she managed to crawl out of a hole in the wreckage as fire erupted around her. Her daughter escaped in a similar manner.

She said she still hasn't been told of the fate of her husband, Doug, who was in another part of the house. Doug Wielinski, a 61-year-old engineer and Vietnam veteran, was probably in the dinning room, his wife said.

"To me it looked like the plane just came down in the middle of the house and unfortunately that was where Doug was," she said.

Witnesses heard the plane sputtering before it plunged squarely through the roof of the house -- which is pictured below at left, before the crash -- its tail section visible through flames shooting at least 50 feet high.
(Google Maps)


"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."

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.

The widow was identified as Beverly Eckert. She was heading to Buffalo for a celebration of what would have been her husband's 58th birthday, said Mary Fetchet, a 9/11 family activist.

Also among those killed were two members of jazz musician Chuck Mangione's band, according to publicist Sanford Brokaw, who identified the band members as Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett. In a statement Mangione, said: "I'm in shock over the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy."

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 bodies. The recorders were on their way to Washington for examination.

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.

A minute later, the controller tried to contact the plane but heard no response. After a pause, he tried to contact the plane again.

Eventually he told an unidentified listener to contact authorities on the ground in the Clarence area.

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."

(AP)
The 74-seat Q400 Bombardier aircraft in Thursday's disaster, like the one pictured at left, was operated by Colgan Air, based in Manassas, Virginia. Colgan's parent company, Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tennessee, 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.

A similar turboprop jet crash 15 years ago in Indiana was caused by icing.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to Buffalo. The Department of Homeland Security said there was no indication of terrorism.

It was the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner mistakenly took off from a Lexington, Kentucky, runway that was too short.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, Linda Franklin in Dallas, Daniel Yee in Atlanta, Ron Powers in Washington, and Cristian Salazar and Jennifer Peltz in New York.
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