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Deadly NY plane crash kills 50

Family assistance center established for relatives of the crash victims.

BY JIM SKILLINGTON | CLARENCE CENTER, NY | February 13, 2009


"Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the family members and loved ones of those involved in the flight 3407 tragedy"

—Larry Kellner, Continental Airlines


Slowly, names of the 50 victims of Thursday night's crash of Continental Flight 3407 are trickling out as family members are notified. The list includes a 9/11 widow, a former Buffalo State women's hockey player and a human right's official.

The flight was on its way from Newark, New Jersey, to Buffalo, NY when it crashed around 10:20 p.m. Thursday, killing everyone on board as well as a resident of the house destroyed in the accident.

Television coverage showed a massive fire at the scene that burned for hours. Emergency officials said two of the residents of the home escaped the inferno with only minor injuries.

Officials spent Friday putting out hot spots in the wreckage. The National Transportation Safety Board also collected the black boxes from the plane's relatively intact tail. Members of the NTSB said their work had just begun on Friday.

"It's still very hot," said Chealander. "It was a major fire and explosion. There's a lot of carnage there."

Authorities blamed the continued burning on a suspected natural gas leak.

According to a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, 49 people -- 45 passengers and four crew members -- were on Continental Express Flight 3407 when it left Newark on its way to Buffalo.

The plane crashed about 5 miles from its destination at the Buffalo International Airport.

A preliminary investigation of the cockpit voice and data recorders revealed the pilots talked about severe icing on the wings of the plane, according the Chealander. Officials said there was a mix of snow and sleet in the Buffalo area at the time of the crash, but other planes had landed safely. Crews from other planes had reported icing as they made their way to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The airplane, a Canadian-made, Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, was operated for Continental by Colgan Air of Manassas, VA. Colgan is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines Corporation of Memphis, TN.

The president of Continental said Friday the company had established an assistance center in the Buffalo area for families of victims killed in the crash.

"Continental extends its deepest sympathy to the family members and loved ones of those involved in this accident," said Larry Kellner, chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. "We are providing our full assistance to Colgan Air so that together we can provide as much support as possible for all concerned."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the family members and loved ones of those involved in the flight 3407 tragedy," Kellner added.

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army both responded on Friday to help family members of victims as well as residents evacuated during the fire and gas leak.

A spokesperson for Colgan said "the full resources of Colgan Air's accident response team are being mobilized and will be devoted to cooperating with all authorities responding to the accident and to contacting family members and providing assistance to them."

The names of the victims have not yet been released.

According to its Web site, Colgan Air, Inc. operates a fleet of 51 regional turboprops as Continental Connection, United Express and US Airways Express. Pinnacle Airlines Corp. operating units fly over 1,000 daily flights and transport 13 million passengers a year to 144 cities and towns in North America.

Pinnacle had announced last month that it was expanding its partnership with Continental, doubling the number of planes in use.

It was the first crash of a commercial airliner in the U.S. in three years and the most people killed in a commercial aircraft accident since 2001.


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