By DAVID WILLIAMS
- 44 passengers, five crew and one man on the ground killed after plane crashes in fireball
- Last words of woman pilot on doomed flight revealed
- Witnesses report hearing screams of the dying in aftermath of impact
The widow of a 9/11 victim was among 50 people killed when a U.S. plane crashed into a house.
They died when the commuter aircraft exploded in a fireball after plummeting into a suburban street on Thursday. Astonishingly, two people in the wrecked house survived.
Victim: Beverly Eckert (left) whose husband Sean Rooney died on September 11, is believed to have perished in the Buffalo plane crash
Beverly Eckert, whose husband Sean Rooney died in the World Trade Centre during the Al Qaeda attack on September 11, 2001, was flying to a family celebration to mark what would have been his 58th birthday when her plane crashed.
She was a spokesman of the Voices Of September 11th group, which supports the families of those killed on 9/11, and met President Obama last week to discuss how he will deal with terror suspects.
Poignant: Beverly Eckert shakes hands with President Barack Obama in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Yesterday, President Obama paid tribute to her, saying: 'She was an inspiration to me and to so many others.'
She was one of 44 passengers and five crew to die when the aircraft's 5,000lb of fuel ignited on impact.
A man in the house also died, although two other occupants - Karen Wielinski,
57, and her 22-year-old daughter, Jill - escaped with only minor injuries.
The plane's tyres can be seen above the mangled and burning wreckage
Fireball: Fire services fought for four hours to bring the blaze under control. Two people are believed to have escaped from their home but it was feared a man who lived there had been killed.
Experts said the death toll could have been much worse as the crash happened within yards of hundreds of family homes. Rescue workers said it was 'miraculous' the neighbourhood had not been wiped out.
Flames soared 100ft high after the 74- seat Bombardier Q400 twin-propeller aircraft plunged into the affluent suburb of Clarence in Buffalo, New York State, at 10.10pm.
Witnesses heard the aircraft's engine spluttering before it went down in light snow and fog about five miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where it was due to land.
Destruction: The wreckage of Continental flight 3407 lies strewn across the crash scene. Little survived the crash and subsequent inferno
Firefighters silhouetted against the flames at the scene: Continental's logo can just be seen on the smashed tail
Bob Dworak, who lives less than a mile from the crash site, said: 'The whole sky was lit up orange.
'All of a sudden, there was a big bang and the house shook.'
After hearing the crash, Mr Dworak drove to the scene.
He said: 'All we were seeing was 100ft flames and a pile of rubble on the ground.
'It looked like the house just got destroyed the instant it got hit.'
Emergency control chief Dave Bissonette said: 'It landed on the house, clearly a direct hit. It is remarkable that it is only one house. It could easily have wiped out the entire neighbourhood.'
Distraught: Family members leave Buffalo Airport after hearing the plane had crashed just seven miles away. All 48 people on board died
Last night, investigators were studying the black box and cockpit flight recordings in the hope that it would reveal what brought down the Colgan Air flight from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
It is feared heavy ice brought the plane down, making it impossible to fly.
Cockpit recordings revealed crew had discussed significant ice building up on the nose and wings within half an hour of the crash.
Steve Chealander of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, confirmed the pilots had also complained of heavy mist.
It is possible that the automatic de-icer system had failed.
Mr Chealander confirmed it had been in the 'on position', but added: 'We don't know if it was working or not though'.
There had been no indication that anything was wrong as air traffic controllers spoke to the female pilot and asked her to level out at 2,300ft.
But a minute later radio contact was lost and a controller had to ask pilots in the area if they could see the aircraft.
A recording shows he then asked an unidentified listener to contact authorities on the ground in Buffalo, ten miles from the airport.
Crash scene: All 48 people on the plane have died
Smoke rises from the burning plane after it crashed into a house in suburban Buffalo, NY
He added: 'You need to find if anything is on the ground.
'All I can tell you is the aircraft is over the marker (landing beacon), and we're not talking to them now.'
After the crash, at least two pilots were heard to say ice had been forming on their wings. One said: 'We've been getting ice since 20 miles south of the airport.'
Residents near the crash site said the plane's engines sounded too loud, spluttered and were making strange noises.
David Luce and his wife were at their computers when they heard the plane come in low.
He added: 'It didn't sound normal. We heard it for a few seconds, then it stopped, then a couple of seconds later was this tremendous explosion.'
The plane's flight path
An aerial view of Clarence Center - described as 'small town U.S.A.' - before the crash. Railroad Street, where the crash occurred, runs from north to south down the centre of the image
Mrs Eckert was one of the most visible public faces in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
She was on the phone to her husband, who was her childhood sweetheart, at his office in the south tower of the World Trade Centre when he died.
She then became a key member of a group of 9/11 widows, mothers and children who lobbied President Bush to protect citizens from terrorism more effectively.
Their work forced policymakers to pass sweeping reforms of U.S. intelligence services in 2004.
She said afterwards: 'I did all of this for Sean's memory. I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else's Sean will get to come home.'
SEE FOOTAGE FROM THE SCENE OF THE CRASH BELOW
The last fatal crash involving a scheduled carrier in the US was a ComAir regional jet in Lexington, Kentucky in August 2006. It crashed on take-off, killing 47 passengers and two crew.
Winds of 65 mph affected much of the eastern US, blowing from the Great Lakes to the East Coast, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power and killing at least five people. Many schools, including those in Buffalo, were closed.
'This is one of the largest power outages we've seen in many years,' said Jimmy Gianato, West Virginia's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The National Guard was sent into the state to clean up.
In New Jersey, a 61-year-old woman died in Union County when a tree snapped, crashing through her car's windscreen and impaling her. A woman in Newark died after a tree branch fell and hit her.
Officials said relatives of passengers aboard the flight should call 1-800-621-3263 for information.
The plane was a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 similar to the one shown above