Activists Among Crash Victims

The crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 left no survivors. Among the dead were Beverly Eckert, a widow of the Sept. 11 attacks who became a tireless advocate for U.S. intelligence reform, and Alison Des Forges, a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Fifty people died in the crash, including a cantor, a former hockey player, a doctor, musicians and two women, both activists whom we have featured on our air. Beverly Eckert lost her husband in the World Trade Center on September 11th. With other determined widows and family members, she pushed the government to action, to create the 9/11 commission. Eckert shared with our listeners her husband's last two voicemails, recorded after the first tower was struck. He was in the second tower.

Unidentified Female: 8:59 a.m.

Mr. SEAN ROONEY: Hey Beverly, this is Sean. In case you get this message, there's been an explosion in World Trade One, that's the other building. It looks like a plane struck it on fire at about the 90th floor and it's, it's - it's horrible. Bye.

Unidentified Female: Received September 11th at 9:02 a.m.

Mr. ROONEY: Hi honey, this is Sean again. Looks like we - this tower for a while. It's secure here. I'll talk to you later, bye.

BLOCK: Beverly Eckert, who lived in Stamford, Connecticut, served on the 9/11 commission's family steering committee. She described once getting the runaround on Capitol Hill, which she said would not do.

Ms. BEVERLEY ECKERT (Family Steering Committee, 9/11 Commission): We walked into somebody's conference room, and we just commandeered it. It was empty and we, you know, decided a new strategy. We're going to call a meeting, we're going to have them come to our meeting and including people, you know, the representatives from the White House. We said, we want final draft so this can go and be voted on. And we got it. So it's - sometimes it's advantageous if you don't know how the game is played.

BLOCK: Also among those killed in the plane crash was Alison Des Forges, a senior advisor to Human Rights Watch. She brought early attention to the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In 1997, she explained the need for justice.

Ms. ALISON DES FORGES (Senior Adviser, Human Rights Watch): It's not simply the obligation of the Rwandan government for this genocide because it was, in fact, such a massive violation of international human rights law. Our country, as all other countries, are obligated to bring to justice those people responsible.

BLOCK: Alison Des Forges, who lived in Buffalo, testified in 11 Rwanda genocide trials. Just two months ago, three men were found guilty.

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Pilots In Buffalo Plane Crash Noted 'Ice Buildup'

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

itoggle 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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