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Continental Plane Crash Near Buffalo Leaves 50 Dead

Feb 13, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The crash of Continental Express flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York last night has left 50 people dead.  The fatalities included all 49 passengers and crew aboard the doomed Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 74-seat turboprop, as well as one person on the ground.

The Continental plane crash occurred around 10:20 p.m. in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence.  The flight, which was operated by Colgan Air, had taken off from Newark, New Jersey, and was beginning its final decent into Buffalo Niagara International Airport.  The plane went down just 7 miles outside of the airport.

According to witnesses, the aircraft dove into a single family home, causing an explosion and fire and killing one resident.  A neighbor interviewed by CNN said that flames shot at least 50 feet into the air. The fire burned so hot that investigators told the network that they likely would not have access to the scene until at least noon today. The only recognizable piece of the plane that remained was the tail, CNN said.  

At a news conference this morning, David Bissonette, Emergency Coordinator for Clarence Center, said that firefighters were still fighting "hot spots".  Crews were also working to cap-off a natural gas leak at the site of the crash.

Two other people in the house,  a mother and daughter, were treated for minor injuries.  Two firefighters were also treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries, CNN said.  

At the time of the accident, conditions at Buffalo Niagara included light snow, fog and 17 mph winds. According to the Buffalo News, following the crash, air traffic control at Buffalo Niagara began quizzing other pilots in the air about the icy conditions in the area.  According to radio transmissions, pilots on a Delta Flight reported picking up some icing on the way down.  Other pilots also reported some icing.  

It is not known what role icing played in the crash of Continental Express flight 3407.  Prior to the crash, pilots of the aircraft did not indicate any distress, and the flight appeared to be routine until air traffic control lost radio contact with the pilot.

According to CNN.com, the turboprop plane involved in the crash was considered one of the safest and most sophisticated aircraft of its type.   At a briefing this morning, Philip H. Trenary, President  & CEO of Pinnacle Airlines Corp., parent company of Colgan Air, Inc., said the aircraft was less than a year old.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent  a "go team"  to Buffalo to investigate the crash.  At a news conference this morning, an NTSB spokesperson said that as far as a cause, investigators have not ruled anything out.

This is the second crash of a Continental flight since December.  On December 28, Continental flight 1404 to Houston was attempting to take off from Denver International Airport when it skidded off the runway, broke apart and burst into flames.  At least 37 people were injured in that crash, but there were no fatalities.

Then on January 15, a US Airways Jet was forced to crash land in the Hudson River when both engines failed following a collision with a flock of geese.  All 155 passengers and crew survived the water landing of US Airways Flight 1549, which was quickly dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson".

The crash of Continental Express flight 3407 is the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since August 2006 when Comair Flight 5191 crashed when it attempted to take off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Kentucky.


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