NEW YORK, Feb 14 – An ice buildup may have contributed to the crash of a Continental Airlines plane that went down outside of the northern US city of Buffalo, killing 50 people, federal investigators have suggested.
Continental Flight 3407, on a flight from Newark in New Jersey to Buffalo, plummeted onto the house in Clarence Center late Thursday.
The Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane exploded on impact about five minutes before it was due to land, killing all 49 passengers and crew.
One person in the crushed house also died, although a woman and her daughter escaped from the rubble of their home with only minor injuries.
"The crew discussed significant ice build-up — ice on the windshield and leading edges of the wings," said investigator Steven Chealander of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The clue was yielded by the recordings on the black boxes recovered from the scene.
While the NTSB has not reached a final conclusion about the causes of the crash, Chealander indicated that ice may have played a role in the catastrophe.
"Significant ice build-up is an aerodynamic impediment. Airplanes are built with wings that are shaped a certain way and ice can change the shape," he said.
Witnesses reported unusual loud noise coming from the plane ahead of the crash.
"We heard a very low humming sound, like a buzz. It was something I have never heard before. Then there was dead silence. After that dead silence, the whole building shook. At that point, you heard a terrifying boom, like a crash," resident Jamie Lynn Trujillo told Fox News.
Her 12-year-old daughter, Tomasita Trujillo, told AFP the plane was on fire before it crashed.
"I looked out my window and saw flames on everything except one of the wings," she said. "It sounded like something was caught (on the plane). It didn’t sound right."
Investigators said black box recordings showed the crew was concerned about the weather and low visibility due to snow and mist as they approached Buffalo.
They asked to drop to 11,000 feet, but began to see a problem with ice.
Chealander also said that seconds after it opened the landing gear, the plane suddenly began "a series of severe pitch and roll excursions."
"Then shortly after that, the crew attempted to raise the gear and flaps just before the end of the recording. And that’s it from the recording that we have thus far," he added.
Chealander said it was still early in the investigation and nothing was being ruled in or out, as the NTSB and the FBI probe the causes of the crash.
President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the families and friends of those killed.
"Tragic events such as these remind us of the fragility of life, and the value of every single day," he said.
Erie County Executive Chris Collins told CNN the plane was carrying 5,800 pounds of jet fuel and turned into a fireball on impact.
Controllers had desperately tried to make contact with the pilot as the plane, run by Colgan Air for Continental, approached Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, also the tourist gateway to Niagara Falls.
Bombardier, the maker of the plane, sent condolences to victims’ families and said it had dispatched its own technical teams to the site to assist the NTSB investigation.
Among the victims were Beverly Eckert , whose husband was killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and Alison Des Forges, an expert on Rwanda, and a senior advisor to Human Rights Watch, officials said.
Eckert, who met with Obama at the White House earlier this month along with other relatives of those killed in the attacks, was traveling to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband, Sean Rooney’s, 58th birthday.
Eckert "was an inspiration to me and to so many others, and I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead," Obama said at the White House.