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49 die in plane crash near Buffalo

All 48 aboard and at least one person on the ground are dead.

February 13, 2009|Geraldine Baum

NEW YORK — A commuter airplane crashed into a house in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., late Thursday and burst into flames, killing all 48 people aboard and at least one person on the ground, authorities said.

Continental Connection Flight 3407 had left Newark, N.J., when it crashed in the town of Clarence Center, about six miles short of Buffalo Niagara International Airport, authorities said.

Two other people on the ground were injured and taken to a local hospital, Dave Bissonette, the county emergency services coordinator, said in an interview on CNN.

About a dozen homes in the neighborhood were evacuated as the fire raged into the night. At least one person was thought to have been inside at the time of the crash.

"This is not a rescue effort," Bissonette said. "This is clearly a tragedy."

New York State Police said all 44 passengers and four crew members aboard were dead.

"The whole sky was lit up orange," Bob Dworak, who lives less than a mile from the crash site, told the Associated Press. "All of the sudden, there was a big bang, and the house shook."

"It was just like a movie," the New York Daily News quoted neighbor Kelly Simkin as saying. "You just saw the explosion. . . . It's unbelievable. My heart is still in my throat. I'm still shaking."

The plane, a 74-seat Bombardier Q400 Dash 8 operated for Continental by regional carrier Colgan Air, based in Manassas, Va., came down about 7:20 p.m. Pacific time on what apparently was its final approach. It was foggy and snowing lightly at the time, with 17-mph winds.

Before the crash, the voice of a pilot on the flight can be heard talking to air-traffic controllers, according to a recording captured by the website www.liveatc.net. Neither she nor the controller express concern that anything is wrong as the airplane is asked to fly at 2,300 feet.

A minute later, the controller tries to contact the pilot but hears no response. After a pause, he tries to contact her again.

Then the controller asks the pilot of a nearby Delta Air Lines plane to try to contact the Continental Connection flight. "Delta 1998, look off your right side about 5 miles for a Dash 8 about 2,300 [feet]. You see anything there?" he asks.

"Uh, negative," the Delta pilot says.

Family members of the passengers were taken to a private waiting area at the Buffalo airport to await news.

A young man named Chris Kausner told CNN that his sister had been aboard. He said he called his parents, vacationing in Florida, to tell them.

"I heard my mother make a noise on the phone that I never heard before," he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

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geraldine.baum@latimes.com

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This report includes information from the Associated Press.

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