Aviation investigators have arrived in the town of Clarence Center, in
western New York State, to sift through the wreckage of a commuter
plane that crashed into a house late Thursday evening, bursting into
flames and killing all 49 persons aboard and one on the ground.
The wreckage of Continental Airlines flight 3407 continued to smolder Friday morning; only the aircraft's tail section remained recognizable.
The town's Emergency Control Director David Bissionette said a natural gas leak was fueling the extremely hot fire.
A team of 14 aviation investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board - or NTSB - began arriving early Friday. Spokesman Steve Chealander said they were searching the crash site for the plane's "black box" cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder.
"We have investigators on scene as we speak trying to get those recorders out," he said. "Our intent is to get them out of here this morning and back to Washington and start the analysis of them as quickly as we can. That has not been done yet, we are attempting to do it."
Flight 3407 was en route from Newark, New Jersey when it came down about nine kilometers from Buffalo Niagara International Airport. It was due to land there shortly after 10:00 p.m. Thursday evening (local time). There was a light snow and moderate winds in the area at the time.
The twin-engine plane struck a house in the residential community, destroying it and killing at least one person on the ground. Two others - a woman and a child - escaped with minor injuries. Rescue workers immediately evacuated residents from about a dozen nearby homes.
Initial reports said the pilots on Flight 3407 radioed the control tower that they were having problems. But County Executive Chris Collins said that did not appear to be the case.
"To the best of our knowledge it did not [report trouble]. It was coming in for a landing and the control tower stated that it lost contact with the plane," Collins said.
This is the second commercial plane crash in the state of New York in less than a month. In January, a US Airways passenger flight that had just taken off from a New York City airport ditched in the Hudson River after birds flew into its engines.
The aircraft's captain heroically landed that plane in the river and all the passengers survived.