Authorities say 50 people are dead after a Continental Express plane crashed into a suburban Buffalo home Thursday night and erupted in flames just five minutes before it was scheduled to land.
Continental Express #3407, operated by Colgan Air, was flying from Newark, N.J., to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport when it crashed into a single-family home at around 10:20 p.m., killing all of the passengers onboard and one person on the ground.
One woman and a child managed to escape from the burning house, said authorities, and are being treated for minor injuries at a local hospital.
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At a press conference early Friday morning, Chris Collins, the Erie County executive, said the plane appears to have "dove directly on top of the house."
"It was a direct hit," said Collins. "It's remarkable that it only took one house. As devastating as that is, it could have wiped out the entire neighborhood."
Collins said the plane had not reported any trouble before the crash and described the weather at the time of the crash as "typical" and "nothing unusual." He added that it was snowing lightly and there was moderate wind in the area.
The plane had been scheduled to arrive in Buffalo at 10:25 p.m., according to authorities, and had departed late from New Jersey.
The Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft, which has 74 seats, was not full at the time of the crash and had been carrying 44 passengers and four crew members.
The Federal Aviation Administration says there was no emergency call from the plane to air traffic control prior to the crash.
Authorities say it will be several hours before investigators can walk the scene of the crash because of the heat resonating from the debris. Investigators from The National Transportation Safety Board are set to arrive in Buffalo early Friday morning.
In a recorded conversation between air traffic controllers and the plane's female pilot, communication with the flight appeared to be routine as the plane got clearance for landing.
Sept. 11 Widow Beverly Eckert
Moments later, the controller reports having lost communication with the flight.
"This aircraft was five miles out and all of a sudden we have no response from that aircraft," said the controller.
Seconds before, the controller asked another pilot in the air whether he could see the Continental Express plane to which the pilot responded, "negative."
Asked about the possibility that ice may have been a factor in the crash, Collins declined to speculate on what may have gone wrong.
In recorded conversations heard after the Continental flight went missing, pilots in other planes in the Buffalo area could be heard discussing ice build-up on their aircrafts' wings.
"We've been picking up ice here for about the past 10 minutes," one pilot said.
While police are waiting to release the names of victims until family members have been notified, the Buffalo News has identified Beverly Eckert, a widow of 9/11 victim Sean Rooney, as one of the passengers who perished in the crash.
Buffalo native Eckert, who was the co-chairwoman of Voices of September 11, had been on her way to Buffalo for a weekend celebration for what would have been her husband's 58th birthday, according to the report.
Chris Kausner's sister, Ellyce Kausner, also perished in the crash.
"I'm thinking the worst and thinking about the fact that my mother has to fly home from Florida and what I'm going to tell my two sons, that's what I'm thinking," said Kausner.
Kausner said his sister had been flying home from Jacksonsville, Fla., where she attended law school.
Larry Kellner, the chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, released a statement early Friday morning.
"Continental extends its deepest sympathy to the family members and loved ones of those involved in this accident," said Kellner. "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.
50 Dead in Buffalo Plane CrashN.Y. Gov. David Paterson also released a statement responding to the crash.
"As we continue to monitor the situation in the Town of Clarence, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were on board, and with the people of the Buffalo metropolitan area," said Paterson. "We will work closely with law enforcement and aviation officials to give families, loved ones and the public updated information as it becomes available."
This is the most fatal plane crash since Comair Flight 5191 crashed while taking off from Lexington, Ky., in August 2006, killing 49 of the 50 passengers on board.
At least twelve homes in the surrounding area have been evacuated since the crash and neighbors have gone to stay with neighbors or friends and family because of initial hazmat concerns due to the amount of fuel on the plane at the time of the crash, police say.
Family members of flight 3407 passengers and crew should contact the airline at 1-800-621-3263.