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Plane crashes into home in Buffalo suburb; all 48 passengers, crew dead


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A commuter airliner carrying 48 passengers and crew from Newark nosedived into an upstate New York hamlet Thursday night, exploding in a fireball and killing all aboard, state police said.


Officials said one person on the ground was killed and two were injured.


It was the deadliest U.S. crash since a Comair commuter jet went down in Kentucky three years ago, claiming 49 lives.


Continental Airlines Flight 3407 plunged into the heart of little Clarence Center about 10:20 p.m. while heading for Buffalo Niagara International Airport about 10 miles away.


The Q400 Dash 8 Turboprop was still burning more than three hours after it flattened a home.


Brendan Biddlec, who lives about two blocks from the crash site, said he heard an unusual and "eerie, buzzing sound, and then two seconds later, there was a huge explosion and the foundation of our house shook."


Erie County Executive Chris Collins said about a dozen nearby homes suffered damage and were evacuated.


Flight 3407 left Newark about two hours late and was due to land at the Buffalo airport at 10:48p.m., officials said.


The cause of the crash was a mystery.


There was no Mayday, "and very little if any communication" between the plane and the airport, officials said.


"I was told it simply dropped off the radar screen," said an official.


Although there was a mix of snow and sleet falling in a light fog, officials said visibility was about 3 miles and there was little wind, so the weather didn't seem to be a factor.


Clarence Center residents said planes often fly over the area, which is directly in front of the Buffalo airport's main runway. But the doomed plane came in loudly and lower than normal before it hit the house with a loud bang.


"This one you knew definitely was very low, and then it was 'boom,' like thunder. Very scary," a neighbor, Norma, told the Toronto Globe and Mail.


A man driving home said the plane passed over his car, and he knew something was wrong right away.


"It was flying northbound," he said. "That was absolutely wrong. Everybody around here knows the flight path is south to southwest."


He added the airliner "didn't sound right," and had its nose down and its wing tilted to the left.


A woman and her daughter said to be living in the house hit by the plane made it out uninjured and were at a neighbor's home. It was unclear what happened to a man who lived there, too.


"The house is gone. Totally gone," neighbor Kelly Simkin told a local news station. "We really think it only landed on one house."


"It was just like a movie. You just saw the explosion. ... It's unbelievable. My heart is still in my throat. I'm still shaking."


Witness Bob Dworak, 52, was at his home around the corner when he heard the blast and felt his home shake.


"We opened the door - you could smell smoke - and the sky was all lit up," Dworak said. "It looked like the house had just been completely leveled, and there were probably flames 50 or 100 feet up in the air."


"It's pretty scary," he added. "We've always worried that one day one is going to go down and land in the neighborhood."


Although officials declined for hours to say how many fatalities there were, the scope of the disaster was evident much earlier.


A nurse at Erie County Medical Center said the hospital's second shift had been told to stay late to treat survivors but was sent home before midnight.


"There were no souls to bring in and treat," she said.


Chris Kausner, the brother of one victim, was heading to the airport to pick up his sister Elise, a 24-year-old law school student, when he heard about the crash.


He called his parents who were vacationing in Florida, a call he'll always remember.


"I heard my mother make a noise on the phone I've never heard before," he said.


BY Leo Standora


February 13th 2009



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