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Eileen Buckley Reports On The Crash For 'All Things Considered'
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Cause Of Buffalo, N.Y., Crash Being Probed

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Cause Of Buffalo, N.Y., Crash Being Probed

Eileen Buckley Reports On The Crash For 'All Things Considered'
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A Continental Airlines turboprop crashed into a neighborhood outside Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, killing 50 people. The wreckage burned throughout the night, making it difficult for investigators to begin looking into the cause of the crash.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The investigation has begun into the commuter plane crash outside Buffalo, New York, last night. Federal officials found the flight-data recorder and voice recorder, and they could offer some information about what happened. Continental connection Flight 3407, a twin turbo-prop plane, suddenly fell. As it headed in for landing, it hit a house and 50 people died -49 passengers and crew, and one person inside that house. Eileen Buckley of member station WBFO in Buffalo has been talking with people in the neighborhood, and she has this report.

EILEEN BUCKLEY: Cathleen Dourg(ph) was at home in her Clarence Center, New York, neighborhood last night around 10:20 when she heard a sputter and then a loud explosion.

Ms. CATHLEEN DOURG (Local Resident, Buffalo): We thought it could have been a car explosion. We had no - we never thought it was going to be a plane landing in Clarence Center. It's nothing that you would ever think what happened.

BUCKLEY: It was the sound of the plane nosediving into her neighbor's two-story, frame house. The crash created a huge fireball that lit up the night sky.

Ms. DOURG: The fire was incredible. You could see it over the houses and you could see this orange flow. (Unintelligible) of lights, you could see the lights and the flames were intense. I thought it was going to burn the whole town. It looked that big. And I'm amazed that the job the fire department did, that it didn't spread.

BUCKLEY: Karen Wielinski and her 22-year-old daughter, Jill, managed to escape from the burning house. It is not known what happened to Wielinski's husband, Doug. Dianne Trajilio(ph) and her son Anthony live just a couple of blocks from the Wielinskis. She was surprised by a strange sound. It was so loud, she thought it was right in front of her own home.

Ms. DIANNE TRAJILIO (Local Resident, Buffalo): I thought it was maybe a truck pulling around the (unintelligible) of stacks where I live. And then I heard the crash. So that's when I looked out and I saw the orange fire (unintelligible). And I ran in and grabbed my son. I said, Anthony, something major, major happened.

BUCKLEY: Anthony Trajilio(ph) grabbed his video camcorder and headed to the scene. He says the fire was so intense, no one could get very close.

Mr. ANTHONY TRAJILIO (Local Resident, Buffalo): There was a lot of firefighters who were just flushed next to the fire, and there was a lot of people kind of heading over there to see if they can try to help the lot of volunteers.

BUCKLEY: Trajilio quickly ran back home to post his video on YouTube.

Mr. TRAJILIO: There were so many things to take and I want some. I don't even think anybody really registered what was going on until much later after the crash.

BUCKLEY: It took nine fire companies hours to put out the blaze. Early this morning, white smoke could still be seen over the neighborhood. Twelve nearby homes were evacuated, as much of the neighborhood was blocked off. But officials who visited the scene said the house was totally destroyed, and remnants of the plane (unintelligible) could still be seen embedded in the rubble. People in Clarence say the town is a close-knit community of about 28,000 people. Said one local official, it's a tragedy beyond description.

For NPR News, I'm Eileen Buckley in Buffalo.

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Pilots In Buffalo Plane Crash Noted 'Ice Buildup'

Eileen Buckley Reports On The Crash For 'All Things Considered'
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Kenneth Roth Of Human Rights Watch Remembers Rwanda Genocide Expert Alison Des Forges, Who Died On Flight 3407
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A map locates the site of the crash near Buffalo.

The plane crashed near Buffalo, a city on the shores of Lake Erie. Lindsay Mangum/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lindsay Mangum/NPR

Voice and data recorders were recovered on Friday from the smoldering wreckage of a commuter plane that crashed overnight outside Buffalo, N.Y., killing 49 people aboard the plane and one person on the ground — and early indications were that ice may have played a role in the disaster.

The crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 into a house in the small hamlet of Clarence Center, N.Y., was the first fatal accident involving a commercial airliner in the U.S. in more than two years.

The turboprop aircraft went down about five miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport in light snow and fog around 10:20 p.m. on Thursday and then burst into flames, witnesses said.

The crew of the plane that crashed near Buffalo discussed "significant ice buildup" on the wings and windshield before the crash, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Steve Chealander said Friday.

Chealander also said the twin turboprop aircraft went through a "severe pitch and roll" after positioning its flaps for a landing.

The plane "basically dove right into the top of the house, from my perspective," said Dave Bissonette, emergency services coordinator for Clarence Center. "I'm no expert on re-creation, but it landed on the house, clearly a direct hit."

Karen Wielinski and her 22-year-old daughter, Jill, were watching television when the aircraft smashed through the roof, pinning them in the wreckage. Wielinski's husband, Doug, is still missing.

"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,' " said Wielinski, who suffered a fractured collarbone in the accident. "The next thing I knew the ceiling was on me."

Wielinski, 57, said she pushed her way out of the debris and crawled through a hole in the wreckage as fire erupted around her. She said her daughter managed a similar escape. She said she still hasn't been told of the fate of her husband, who was in another part of the house.

A leading advocate for families of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, and two members of jazz musician Chuck Mangione's band were among the onboard victims. Alison Des Forges, who was considered one of the foremost experts on Rwanda's genocide, was also one of the victims.

Fielding journalists' questions at a news conference on Friday, the NTSB's Chealander asked for patience, saying "it's too early to tell" the cause of the crash. "We don't have any factual information other than the plane came down and hit a house," he said. "The tail section of the aircraft is relatively intact, so we are trying to recover it now."

Later, NTSB officials recovered the orange-colored flight data and cockpit voice recorders and sent them to Washington, D.C., for analysis.

It was 32 degrees with moderate wind at the time of the crash — not unusual weather conditions in that part of upstate New York for this time of year, Bissonette said. But other pilots in the area were concerned about icing in the wet, cold weather, control tower recordings showed.

No Report Of Problems

Officials from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the Buffalo airport, said there were no reported problems with the plane before the crash. The 74-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, operated by Colgan Air, was en route from Newark to Buffalo when it suddenly lost contact with air traffic control.

"It's remarkable that it only took one house, as devastating as it was. It could have easily wiped out that whole neighborhood," Bissonette said.

Among the dead was a woman whose husband died in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A fellow advocate for Sept. 11 victims' families told The Associated Press that Beverly Eckert was flying to Buffalo for a celebration of what would have been her husband's 58th birthday.

President Obama, who met Eckert last week at a White House meeting with relatives of those killed in the 2001 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole, said he was "deeply saddened" by the accident. He called Eckert "an inspiration to me and others."

New York Gov. David Paterson offered his condolences and thanked rescue services workers and the NTSB, calling it a "tragic day" in the history of the state.

Continental Airlines Chief Executive Larry Kellner also extended sympathies to victims' families.

'It Didn't Sound Normal'

The plane was carrying 5,000 pounds of fuel and apparently exploded on impact, Erie County Executive Chris Collins said.

Residents of the neighborhood where the plane went down are used to planes rumbling overhead, but witnesses said this one sounded louder than usual, sputtered and made some odd noises.

David Luce said he and his wife were working at their computers when they heard the plane come in low. "It didn't sound normal," he said. "We heard it for a few seconds, then it stopped, then a couple of seconds later [there] was this tremendous explosion."

On control tower recordings, an air traffic controller can be heard calling in vain for the flight to respond and then asking for help to find out what happened to it.

"This is ground communication. We need to talk to someone at least five miles northeast ... either state police or sheriff's department. We need to find out if anything is on the ground," he said.

"This aircraft was five miles out and all of a sudden we have no response to that aircraft."

Grief And Patience

Throughout the night, families and friends of those who were killed arrived at the Buffalo airport. They were taken to a senior citizens center nearby, where counselors were on hand.

In a statement on Friday, Chuck Mangione said he was "in shock" over the loss of two members of his jazz ensemble — saxophonist Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mellett.

"I am grieving and praying with their families and friends," Mangione said. "That's all I can say for now."

Chris Kausner, whose sister Ellyce Kausner was aboard the doomed flight, had to give the news of her death to his parents.

"My sister was on the plane. My other sister, Laura, was waiting at the airport. I heard on the radio that there had been a crash. So, I called immediately to see if the plane had landed at the airport or not. Initially, she thought that it had, but it turns out that is not the case," he said.

"I really am just thinking about my mother," he said. "My parents are on vacation down in Florida and I had to call and tell them what was going on."

No official list of the victims has been made available, but some details were released about the four-person crew. Capt. Marvin Renslow had been with Colgan Air for three years, and 1st Officer Rebecca Shaw had logged more than 2,000 hours of flight time with the carrier. There also were two flight attendants on the plane.

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 took off from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was too short.

On Friday, one person suffered a minor injury when a British Airways passenger jet carrying 71 people crash-landed at London City Airport around 8 p.m. after part of its landing gear failed, officials said.

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