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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Family of Victims of Flight 3407 Speak about their Loss

Aired February 13, 2009 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, breaking news -- 50 people are killed in a plane crash near Buffalo, New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard it explode and my whole room shook.

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KING: A 9/11 widow dies in the tragedy, members of a famous dead are left dead. Portraits of the victims are beginning to emerge.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a good person. Loved his family.

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KING: Tonight, their devastated loved ones are here -- the pilot's sister, parents of the off-duty captain who was on board and friends who want to say good-bye. The investigation into the cause underway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They saw icing on the windshield and the leading edge of the wings.

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KING: We've got eyewitness accounts and live reports from the scenes all right now on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

Lots to get to tonight.

Jason Carroll, our CNN correspondent, is on the scene in Buffalo, New York.

And in Shenandoah, Iowa is Shirlene Thiesfeld, the sister of the Colgan Air pilot who flew the Continental Connection Flight 3407. Marvin Renslow, who perished in that flight -- and there is his nephew, Jason Peregrine.

We'll meet them both in a moment.

Jason, what's -- is the general assumption, Jason, this was ice that caused this?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the NTSB wants to wait until they have all of the facts in order. But even so, the NTSB, Larry, still has a lot of information at their disposal.

What they've been able to do is recover the cockpit voice recorder, as well as the flight data recorder, both recovered from the tail section of Flight 3407. A lot of information on the cockpit voice recorder. There's two hours of conversations that investigators are focusing on. They can hear the crew, Larry, talking about the weather, talking about the visibility, and, of course, talking about ice. At one point, the pilot looked out on the windshield and saw ice on the windshield, Larry, as well as ice on the wings -- a significant amount of ice, according to what he said.

So what he was able to do is he was able to activate the deicing mechanism on the plane.

And then, Larry, according to the flight data recorder, what happened next was this. The landing gear was placed down. They put the flaps down on the wing to try to slow down the aircraft. Shortly then after that, according to what we heard on the -- what was on the flight data recorder, seconds later the plane started to roll, it started to pitch and then it went down.

Of course, investigators at this point on the scene -- on the ground trying to recover what they can in terms of remains.

But a very difficult day for the people here.

KING: It crashed six miles from the airport and no mayday, right, from the crew?

CARROLL: According to the air traffic control, all the information that we're getting from the conversation between air traffic control and the pilot, no cause for -- no mayday, as you say. No indication, at least from the pilots that something...

KING: (INAUDIBLE).

CARROLL: ...was terribly wrong right before an approach.

KING: Thanks, Jason Carroll, CNN correspondent, on the screen.

Now, Shirlene Thiesfeld in Shenandoah, Iowa, the sister of the pilot, and her son, Jason who is, of course, the nephew of the late Marvin Renslow.

How did you learn of this, Shirlene?

SHIRLENE THIESFELD, PILOT'S SISTER: My brother, Melvin, called this morning around 1:00 and informed us of the incident that Marvin was involved in -- that there had been an accident.

KING: I know this is hard, Shirlene. And we appreciate you giving us any time. Jason, were you close with your uncle?

JASON PEREGRINE, PILOT'S NEPHEW: Yes. Yes. It had been a little bit since I talked to him, but I had to opportunity to see him just last summer and I talked to him on e-mail a little bit.

KING: We put up a picture of him and his family.

Shirlene, is that a recent picture?

Is that pretty much Marvin the way he was?

THIESFELD: That was pretty much Marvin the way he was. It's not a real recent photo.

I'm guesstimating it's about five to 10 years old. But if you saw Marvin today, that's what Marvin looked like.

KING: What was he like?

THIESFELD: He hadn't changed much. He was a great person. He was a wonderful father. He was very involved in his church, in his community. He loved life. He loved sharing his life with his family and friends and involved them. He had a passion for flying. And he'll be -- he'll be missed.

KING: Were you close growing up?

THIESFELD: Excuse me?

KING: Were you close?

THIESFELD: Yes. Marvin was just younger than me. And growing up, you know, he was my -- my best friend, as brothers will be.

KING: Yes, they will.

The mother of Rebecca Shaw, your brother's co-pilot, talked about her daughter today.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She just loved flying anytime she could be in the air. She was an amazing woman. She came very, very far. She, you know, she was just full of energy. She'd try and do anything, was up for any experience and she just loved life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you know of any, Shirlene, funeral plans?

THIESFELD: No, sir. The arrangements are still pending on family decisions.

KING: That will be up to his wife, of course, right?

THIESFELD: Of course. His wife and, of course, consideration with the children.

KING: Where do they live, Shirlene?

THIESFELD: And the (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Where did -- where did Marvin live?

THIESFELD: Marvin and his wife, Cindy, and children lived in Lutz, Florida, close to Tampa.

KING: Oh, I know it well. Lutz, Florida. That's a beautiful community.

Jason, it's going to be -- are you -- Jason, are you afraid of flying after this?

PEREGRINE: Oh, no. The odds of that happening aren't really all that well -- aren't that good. You know, you have a better chance of something happening just out on the road.

KING: Shirlene, thanks for spending the time with us. And you, too, Jason.

PEREGRINE: Thank you.

THIESFELD: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Our condolences, of course.

A 9/11 widow is among the victims. She has a number of lifelong friends who want the world to know about her.

That's next, as our special coverage of the plane crash near Buffalo continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: An extraordinary lady died on that flight. She was Beverly Eckert. Three of her friends join us now from Buffalo -- Kathleen Delaney, a very close friend of the victim. Carol Bada, who was one of her oldest friends. They met in kindergarten. And Cathy Matthews, as well.

Beverly was -- how extraordinary, she became an active -- advocate for the victims after 9/11.

Watch.

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BEVERLY ECKERT, 9/11 WIDOW: It's hard to turn around and see the whole in the skyline where my husband's building used to be. If this bill doesn't pass, I don't think I'll ever -- I don't think I'll ever be able to go back there. I think I'll be too ashamed.

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KING: All right, Kathleen Delaney, tell us about Beverly.

What was she like?

KATHLEEN DELANEY, KNEW CRASH VICTIM BEVERLY ECKERT: Well, I had the fortune of sitting in front of Beverly pretty much my entire high school career because we were alphabetically arranged. And she was -- she was just always a lot of fun to be around. She instigated a lot of pranks. But she was just -- she was just a wonderful person who knew her mind and -- which I think is one of the things that this high school that we attended, Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, really, really promoted.

We -- this was an all girls' school. And at the time when we were in school, it was just a good, solid place for young women who may not have had the opportunity had they been in another type of a school to develop their leadership roles.

KING: Carol, you go...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Carol, you go back to kindergarten right?

CAROL BADA, KNEW CRASH VICTIM BEVERLY ECKERT: Yes, we went to grammar school together, kindergarten, high school. And we were thick as thieves right along. And we got into mischief together. And Bev was just so much fun. She had so much energy and she was very creative. People don't know that she was an excellent artist, painter and potter and just so creative. We had a lot of fun together. Very close.

KING: Cathy Matthews, how well did you know her?

KATHLEEN MATHEWS, KNEW CRASH VICTIM BEVERLY ECKERT: I knew her through the four years at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart and some years beyond into adulthood. I saw her, you know, fairly recently, as well.

I knew her as one of the bright lights in our class. She was the person who drew a lot of friends to her. And she was -- in a girls' school, sometimes it could be cliquey and different. But Bev was one of the people who was sort of an equal opportunity friend. A lot of people truly got to know her well and we think of her fondly.

KING: She just met with President Obama a week ago. He paid tribute to her today.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, tragic events such as these remind us of the fragility of life and the value of every single day. One person who understood that well was Beverly Eckert, who was on that flight and who I met with just a few days ago.

Now, you see, Beverly lost her husband on 9/11 and became a tireless advocate for those families whose lives were forever changed on that September day. And in keeping with that passionate commitment, she was on her way to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband's birthday and launch a scholarship in his memory.

So she 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Kathleen, are you surprised that she became the advocate she became?

MATHEWS: Oh, no. As a matter of fact, when I was going through some things today, I found a clipping from 1967. She won a Voice of Democracy Contest here. And I think I -- I must not have won because that's why I kept it.

But I talked to Bev Wednesday night. She was coming into town for Sean's scholarship. And she was due to have had dinner at our house tonight. And I asked her about meeting Obama. And she said to -- she immediately told me, I'll tell you all about it Friday night. But she let me know that she was scanning a napkin that she had pinched from underneath his water bottle. And this morning -- this morning I had that e-mail that she had sent off to me. And there it was -- the presidential seal on a napkin.

So she...

KING: Carol, did she...

MATHEWS: That was the type of -- she loved saving things.

KING: Carol, did she have children?

BADA: No. She did not have children, but she had nephews and a niece. And so they were very close to her. She was the fun aunt that they all loved to be with.

KING: And her life had changed.

She had a boyfriend now, didn't she?

BADA: Yes, uh-huh.

KING: Were they planning...

BADA: He is a wonderful guy.

KING: Were they planning to get married? BADA: Oh, not at this point, I don't think. But, you know, he's just -- he was very, you know, a very loving person to her and very understanding of the things she had to go through for what she had to do politically.

MATHEWS: She was trying to move on with her life as best she could while always, always revering Sean's legacy.

KING: Any funeral plans that you know of, ladies?

BADA: Not at this point.

MATHEWS: No.

KING: Well, this is the hardest thing in the world, not just to lose a relative, but to lose a friend.

Quickly, we have -- what will you remember the most, Kathleen?

MATHEWS: Oh, just -- just Bev. I mean, she's -- she was just all present. And one of the things that really struck me, especially after Sean died, was just how close she brought all of us together. She was always concerned for us. And when we were trying to make calls today, she was the one who had the phone numbers, so we were lost.

KING: Carol, what will you remember?

BADA: Her boundless energy. It's just amazing. Every time I spoke with her, she was flying off one place or another, on some committee, this committee, all over. And whether it was the scholarship fund or memorials, even in her own hometown or here, it was just amazing, her energy level.

KING: And, Kathy, what will you remember the most?

DELANEY: I'll remember her quick intellect and her creativeness and mostly I'm going to remember how steadfastly she pursued justice for the victims and the families from 9/11.

KING: Yes.

She was an amazing woman.

Thank you all, ladies.

We appreciate this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, Larry.

KING: Hey, a close friend of mine -- in fact, on the fifth anniversary of my radio show, he wrote original music and played songs on that show with me. He is Chuck Mangione. And two of his band members were killed on that flight. The musician is said to be devastated by the news. Jazz lovers all over the world, too.

New York Governor David Paterson joins us in 60 seconds.

It's exclusive.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us now in Albany, New York, for a few moments is Governor David Paterson, the governor of New York.

What are your thoughts with a tragedy like this, especially just a few weeks after one of the joyous moments of a plane saving everybody?

GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: Honestly, Larry, "the miracle on the Hudson," it was such a wonderful time. Some of the passengers were in shock. They couldn't believe that they had escaped tragedy. There was actually the brother of a 9/11 victim who was on the Flight 159, "The Miracle on the Hudson." And everyone felt the presence of a higher being, the presence of God. And today...

KING: What about now?

PATERSON: Well, that was interesting because we have to find the presence of God even today, amid the tragedy and the horrible feeling. I've had to talk to families, as you just have in the past few minutes. I never had to talk to 100 people who have been victimized at the same time. I found it overwhelming.

But I thought maybe that the attempt today on the part of all the people from the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI and the people from the New York State police, I mean they -- that if we were inspired to bring comfort to those families, then maybe that was maybe a small tribute that we were making to those who had lost their lives.

KING: Do you ever wonder why the plane was flying in conditions like that -- sleet, snow, ice?

We often wonder in conditions like that why they go up.

PATERSON: Well, my understanding was that it wasn't that difficult an evening, that the winds were about 15 miles an hour. There was a little bit of rain or a little snow. But I guess we'll have to wait for the investigation. I know so many times we have all sat on the runway thinking, well, just take this plane off. Let's just get out of here. And tonight is one of the reasons why we understand that sometimes that there are delays and that planes don't take off.

KING: The toughest part of your job is this, I would imagine?

PATERSON: I would say it's the toughest part of my job, going to see the families, being part of their grief. But I would say it was amazing how gracious so many of the families were. There was one man who was going around consoling family members. And I shook his hand and I thanked him for coming. And he told me that actually his daughter was one of the victims. I'll never forget that.

KING: Thanks, David.

We'll see you soon.

PATERSON: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Governor David Paterson, the governor of New York.

When we come back, an off duty pilot was on board that plane that crashed. His parents and sister are here right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us now in Phoenix, Arizona, is Jamie Rose, the sister of crash victim Joseph Zuffoletto. He was on off-duty captain for Colgan Air who was flying on the plane, but not piloting it.

And in Bonita, California, Jim and Roselle Zuffoletto, his parents.

Jim, Roselle, how did you learn what happened to your son?

JIM ZUFFOLETTO, FATHER OF CRASH VICTIM, CAPTAIN JOSEPH ZUFFOLETTO: We were watching television last night, waiting for the news, when I got a call from a relative saying that there had been a plane crash in Buffalo and had I heard anything about it, did I know if Joe was on that flight?

And, of course, I didn't know anything about it. And I turned on CNN and saw the pictures and the story. I called the number that they displayed on the screen and, of course, got nothing. I mean they wouldn't tell us anything.

And then about two hours later I got a call from Colgan in Manassas telling us that Joe had -- had been confirmed on the manifest.

KING: How are you dealing with this, Roselle?

ROSELLE ZUFFOLETTO, MOTHER OF CRASH VICTIM, CAPTAIN JOSEPH ZUFFOLETTO: Well, Larry, we're taking it an hour at a time -- not even a day at a time. We have lots of family and friends here with us at home, lots of phone calls, e-mails from friends and just sending us their support and prayers and a lot of tears.

KING: Was Joe married?

R. ZUFFOLETTO: And we're trying to remember the funny times.

No.

KING: He was not married?

R. ZUFFOLETTO: Not married.

KING: Had he flown with the airlines for some time, Jim?

J. ZUFFOLETTO: He was. He was with Colgan for about three-and-a- half years. He loved it.

KING: Jamie, his sister, how did you hear of it?

JAMIE ROSE, SISTER OF CRASH VICTIM, CAPTAIN JOSEPH ZUFFOLETTO: Well, it's also -- I was -- I'm in thick of it here in All Stars with Phoenix. And we have the NBA out here.

KING: The NBA All Stars, yes.

ROSE: And I happened to be staying at a hotel just due to work instead of at my house. And I was walking in the lobby and they had CNN on and I saw all of it. It had Buffalo across the screen. And I immediately called my grandmother because she -- she lives right near the airport and I was worried about her.

And about 15 minutes later, it dawned on me that it was the Continental flight and it was from Newark and that it possibly even could have been piloted by my brother.

So I called him and it went straight to voice mail. And I was a bit in denial because his voice mail says he's either flying or sleeping. And I chose sleeping, which wasn't true, unfortunately.

And my mom, because she knew that I was so busy this week, allowed me to sleep in until about 6:30. And, you know, when you see that first at night before you go to bed and your mom calls you at 6:30 in the morning, you know what's going on.

KING: Yes.

ROSE: So I didn't even say hi. It was my first question, is Joe OK?

And, of course, he wasn't.

KING: Roselle, why was he going -- why was he on that plane to Buffalo?

R. ZUFFOLETTO: Well, he was off-duty. He had completed his job at Newark and he was dead heading to Buffalo for his days off and he was going to stop and see his grandmother and then go to his apartment for the weekend and visit some friends. So he just had a seat on the plane -- you know, a jump seat. And he was going to go home for the hour flight for the weekend.

KING: So he was up front with the crew?

R. ZUFFOLETTO: Yes. Yes.

KING: That's way -- Jim, how are you dealing with this? J. ZUFFOLETTO: Well, like Roselle said, we're taking it one hour at a time. It's very, very confusing. You get very little sleep and you try to you just try to make it through to the next task. It's very, very difficult.

KING: And you, Jamie?

ROSE: I would say I'm almost not dealing yet. It's on and off. I worked a lot this morning because I just had some loose ends to tie up so that I could dedicate the rest of my time to my brother and just family -- family and friends.

KING: Our deepest condolences to all of you. And thanks for sharing these moments with us.

ROSE: Thank you.

R. ZUFFOLETTO: Thank you, Larry.

J. ZUFFOLETTO: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Oh, thank you.

A woman described as the rock of her family died last night and her brother and sister are here to tell us how difficult that loss is for a grieving family next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I could see was fire, fire and explosions. That's all we could see. And then we saw the woman from the house where she fell to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then my son said, I saw a flash. We looked outside and there was just a red glow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were tons of fire trucks, tons of sirens, more than I had ever heard in my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining us now in Buffalo, New York, is Margie Pettys Brandquist and Patrick Pettys. They lost their sister, Mary, on that plane. You all live in Buffalo, Patrick?

PATRICK PETTYS, BROTHER OF CRASH VICTIM: I live in Buffalo, correct, yes.

MARGIE PETTYS BRANDQUIST, SISTER OF CRASH VICTIM: And I live in Leesburg, Virginia.

KING: OK. What was Mary doing coming to Buffalo for?

BRANDQUIST: Mary actually lives in Buffalo and has lived there for 50 years. She was on business in New Jersey and was flying home after a few days of being in New Jersey for work.

KING: How did you learn about this, Patrick?

PETTYS: I was woken up around 5:15 this morning by my 20-year- old niece, and just said that my sister died.

KING: How do you react to something like that?

PETTYS: She told me -- at first, it was shocking. I didn't believe it. And then sudden fear came in and kind of slowly came in. It's undescribable how to lose someone this special to you and so suddenly, in such a catastrophe. It's hard to explain.

KING: Margie, I heard that you called Mary your other mom. What do you mean?

BRANDQUIST: We're lucky enough to be one of ten children of this fabulous family. And we, unfortunately, lost our mom tragically two years ago, very suddenly. And Mary stepped in and she was the mom. She solved everyone's problems. She opened her wallet, her heart, her house and never wanted any recognition for anything, never said that she ever did anything for anybody, but just silently helped everybody.

So she was our unsung hero. She was our warrior. And so to lose our mom so tragically, and then to now lose Mary, it's devastating. She was one of the most tremendous, exceptional women. And that's why we're here, is to be able to let everyone know she wasn't just number 50 of this tragedy. She was number one for us. And it's going to be impossible to replace in our lives.

KING: Patrick, how are all these siblings dealing with this?

PETTYS: All in different ways, but a lot of grief, a lot of confusion, a lot of asking questions why; why her; why any of them that was aboard this plane? To me -- I talked to my friends and family, and we're all just speechless, just absolutely speechless. There's no words to describe it.

KING: I understand completely. Thank you both very much. Our sympathies to every one of the siblings.

BRANDQUIST: And thank you.

KING: Thank you, guys. A mother and daughter were in the house struck by the plane last night, an incredible survival story. Find out how they're doing when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us on the phone is Michael Hughes, the spokesman for Millard Filmore Suburban Hospital. That's the hospital where the survivors from the home that the plane crashed into were treated. And Tony Tatro is the eye-witness who lived next door to the home the plane crashed into. Michael, how are the survivors doing?

MICHAEL HUGHES, MILLARD FILMORE SUBURBAN HOSPITAL: Good evening, Mr. King. Fortunately, both the mother and the daughter who were in the house at the time the plane hit were treated and released from the hospital less than 12 hours from the time of arrival. They were discharged about 12 hours later.

KING: Great. So no one's in the hospital from the incident?

HUGHES: No, the two from the house were treated and released. We also treated and released two firefighters who worked the scene as well.

KING: So there was one deceased, right?

HUGHES: That is the case. The state police have identified someone who was on the ground.

KING: Tony, where were you?

TONY TATRO, WITNESSED CRASH: I was driving home. I had been at the gym. I was driving home. It was about 10:15. I was driving eastbound on Clarence Center Roda, and actually was startled by the plane flying over my head. Strangely enough, as I stand here, I've watched three or four planes heading to the southwest, which is where the airport is. This one crossed my path as I was going east. It crossed my path from right to left, meaning it was flying northeast. So it was going completely the wrong direction.

It was only 75 feet, if that, above me, as I was driving my car. Like I said, the lights from the wings startled me enough where I had to look up and find out exactly what it was.

KING: Must have been a calamitous noise?

TATRO: Yes, the engines -- because it being so close, the engines were very loud. They didn't sound like normal engines would sound. I haven't flown a whole bunch. But I've flown enough to know what an engine sounds like when it's at a steady buzz, if you will, or a hum. And these were certainly not making that sound.

The plane was tilted downward. The nose of the plane was down. As it went by me, I could see the belly of the plane. The left wing was a little lower than the right. And it was clearly on a trajectory that it was going to hit the ground. And that was the only thought that went through my head, this plane is going to hit the ground.

KING: Did you hear the crash?

TATRO: Yes, sir, I was able to hear it. I could not see it. There was a home that was between me and where it had impacted. I was only a block and a half from it when I had I stopped my car. I had heard it and felt it, obviously, and then saw the explosion around the house that I was looking at. From that point, I was immediately on the phone with 911. And the plane hit at 10:17. That was the time that I had made the call to 911. And it was literally seconds after the explosion.

KING: And you lived where in relation to the house that it hit? TATRO: I was only a block from home. I was in the volunteer parking lot when I made the call. I crept up just a little bit after I got off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, just so that I could look down the street to see exactly what was happening. The house was in ruins. It was just a great big fireball. I drove literally around the corner one block and pulled into my own driveway, where I went through a backyard and got on to the street where the house was, at that point, again, just a complete ball of fire.

KING: Tony, this is something you will never forget.

TATRO: No, sir, it's not. I've had a chance to reflect a little bit today, and to try to put it into perspective. It's a shame that we don't do more to know the people that are around us. The folks whose home was destroyed lived 100 yards from where I live, and I'd been there a year and a hadn't made the time to even acknowledge them or introduce myself. So it's too bad we don't do more things like that to know some people.

KING: Thanks to Michael Hughes and thanks to Tony Tatro. We'll be back in 60 seconds with the flight recordings. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us now in Atlanta, John Wiley. He's done yeoman like work all day today. The former pilot of an Airbus, the kind of plane widely in use today, contributing editor of "Business and Commercial Aviation Magazine." Here now the last brief communications, John, from the Continental Connection Flight 3407 and then the control tower trying to track it. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 34-7, approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 34-7, Buffalo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 34-7, now approaching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delta 1998, look off your right side about five miles for a dash 8, should be 4,300. You see anything there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative Delta 1998, we're just in the bottoms and nothing off TKs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, Buffalo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Colgan 3407, Buffalo Tower, how do you hear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) some ground communication. We need to talk to somebody at least five miles northeast, OK, possibly Clarence, that area right in there, Akron area, either state police or sheriff's department. We need to find if anything is on the ground. This aircraft was five miles out and all of a sudden we have no response on that aircraft. (END VIDEO CLIP

KING: John, what's your guess as to why no mayday?

JOHN WILEY, FORMER PILOT: They didn't have time. This was on them in a heartbeat.

KING: What was on them? Ice would be on them in a heartbeat?

WILEY: Well, you have a heightened awareness from the crew. They know that they're in icing conditions. They're preparing to begin the descent, the landing. They're about maybe two minutes away from touchdown. They've already discussed the fact that they know they have ice on the airplane.

You fly in the northeast, you're going to fly in ice. There's nothing in the weather scenario that they've got that really jumps out at them that says there's a big, red flag. This is another night where, basically, they're contending with the problems. As they reconfigure the airplane, as it says on the NTSB tapes, there was a severe roll and pitch, meaning the airplane departed. At 1,500 feet, you don't have enough time, you don't have enough altitude to recover the airplane. It was over in less than 30 seconds.

KING: How would you guess that every other plane coming in that night went in OK?

WILEY: Well, again, you have a situation where your situation -- your conditions are unique. We have seen, time and time again, where aircraft have proceeded a crashed aircraft, aircraft have followed the crashed aircraft with no incident. There's really no explanation. Obviously, the Q-400 was carrying quite a bit of ice and he reconfigured the airplane that last moment. That was the last -- that was the last piece of the puzzle, the last part of the equation and the airplane departed.

KING: All right. One more quick thing. We are almost out of time in this segment. Why will ice bring a plane down?

WILEY: Well, it destroys the lift on the wings. It is really that simple. You start creating ice on the wing, you can lose as much as 30 or 40 percent of your lift very, very rapidly. That's what keeps you in the air, lift.

KING: Thanks, John. John Wiley.

WILEY: Good night.

KING: Done great work all day. A well known human rights advocate lost her life last night. Her friend and colleague joins us after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then the engine cut off and stopped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we could see flames rising high in the sky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then within a couple of seconds, there was a tremendous explosion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unbelievable. Never saw anything like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Joining us now in New York is Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. His colleague, Dr. Allison Deforge, was killed in that crash.

KEN ROTH, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: I learned this morning. We figured out she was on the flight. She was coming back from Europe, where she had been lobbying various capitals to try to get more protection for the people of Eastern Congo, who are on the subject of a very awful war that has been raging there for some time. She was really an indefatigable fighter for human rights.

KING: Why was she going to Buffalo?

ROTH: She lived in Buffalo.

KING: Oh.

ROTH: I should say she lived on a plane. This is a woman who was back and forth between Africa, Europe and the United States, as if it was nothing. And so I suppose it's ironically tragic that she should die in a plane. But she lived there and she was heading home.

KING: Tell us about her immediate family.

ROTH: She is survived by her husband Roger, who's taught as a professor at the university there. She has two grown children and three grandchildren.

KING: Were you close?

ROTH: Very close. I've worked with Allison for nearly 20 years. She's a true hero of the human rights movement. She was a diminutive woman, barely five feet tall, 66 years old. She was really a giant in the field. She was the world expert on human rights conditions in Rwanda. For example, at the time of the genocide in 1994, she was in the White House. She was in capitals around the world pushing for some response, some effort to stop the genocide. When that failed, she documented what happened and became the leading expert witness before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has been prosecuting those responsible, the authors of the genocide.

So she was really, you know, I think the leading human rights advocate for the victims in Rwanda. But unlike many people who, you know, out of guilt tended to lionize Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda, she saw through his repression and, indeed, insisted just as a matter of principle that not only should the genocide there be brought to justice, but Paul Kagame and his so- called Rwanda Patriotic Front, the people who actually stopped the genocide, that he killed 30,000 civilians in the process, that they, too, should have their day in court.

KING: Was it --

ROTH: Quite unpopular in Rwanda. Over the last six months, they have actually blocked her from entering the country.

KING: Must have been a sad day at Human Rights Watch today.

ROTH: It was awful. We had a meeting this morning, a staff meeting. Some 250 people in different conference rooms around the world linked by video conference, and I had to break the news to them all. I have to say, there were many, many tears in the room. This is a close colleague and one who's really lionized by her colleagues and by people around the world.

KING: Obviously, a heroin. Thanks, Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

ROTH: Thank you.

KING: Eyewitnesses have provided some of the most detailed and perhaps helpful accounts of what happened. We'll meet them next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: On the phone is Will Charland. He's an i-Reporter, one of our own i-Reporters, who witnessed and videotaped the crash. Before we talk to Will, let's see a little of his yeoman-like work.

A lot of citizens, ordinary citizens, send us i-Reports. They work with their own cameras, file it to us. We often put it on the air, as is this case. How did you happen to be there, Will?

WILL CHARLAND, WITNESSED THE CRASH: Good evening, Larry. I was actually -- I live a quarter mile away, and I was out in my yard walking across the street to my neighbor's house. And a plane flew overhead. It might have been 150 feet right above my head. The only unusual thing about that was how low. We do live in a flight path, so we do see planes day-to-day. I didn't think much of it except for the noise it was making. It sounded like maybe a lawn mower was falling from the sky.

Within seconds of that, a loud crash, and then the sky lit up with an orange glow. And I knew right then what had happened. I ran into the neighbor's house that I was going to visit, told them what happened. And we all immediately went over there and I happened to grab my cam corder.

KING: You thought right away, I'm going to tape this? CHARLAND: You know, I don't know what caused me to think that. It was some sort of an instinct. I have yet to understand why. But I did get some footage.

KING: How were the neighbors reacting?

CHARLAND: I would describe the scene as panic. People had no idea what had happened. People were scurrying, trying to find loved ones that might have been in the wreckage. It was chaos.

KING: How are you coping with it?

CHARLAND: It's been a tough 24 hours. I haven't got much sleep. You know, again, just trying to make sense of it all. Not easy.

KING: Do you hear lots of planes in that flight path?

CHARLAND: Absolutely. Every day, we hear them. Like I said, they generally don't fly that low.

KING: But it wasn't unusual for them to be in that path?

CHARLAND: Not at all.

KING: How bad was the weather.

CHARLAND: It was typical Buffalo weather. You know, it was a heavy, heavy-type of a sleet, icy, you know, snowy mix. But I'm sure it sounds like planes do that all the time, so it didn't seem like that was unusual to deal with.

KING: How close do you live to the house that was hit?

CHARLAND: I live just about a quarter mile away, about three blocks.

KING: Now, are you -- did you have your composure while you're shooting this? I mean, what are you going through while you're being kind of a civilian reporter?

CHARLAND: In my mind, I was in shock. That helped me to maintain my composure. I didn't really say much. Again, I was just there to witness the scene like everyone else. I just happened to have a cam corder.

KING: Did you hear the crash?

CHARLAND: Yes. I heard a loud crash and followed by an immediate illumination of the sky, like the sun was rising.

KING: So this has got to still linger with you?

CHARLAND: You know, Larry, this is going to linger with me for probably the rest of my life.

KING: What do you do for a living, Will? CHARLAND: I'm in sales.

KING: Lived in Buffalo a long time?

CHARLAND: Actually, pretty new to the area. I moved here in August from North Carolina.

KING: That's some climate change.

CHARLAND: Yes, well, you know, I try to stay warm and, you know, make the best of it. But, you know, it is times like these that I'm glad I live in a community like Clarence Center, where great neighbors, people are all going to stick together. And we'll get through this. And my condolences go out to the families affected by this awful tragedy.

KING: Do you fly a lot, Will?

CHARLAND: I do. But, you know, I'm not thrilled about doing it any time soon.

KING: I understand. Will, thanks a lot and thanks for some great work.

CHARLAND: Thanks for your time, Larry.

KING: Civilian i-Reporter Will Charland on the scene from Buffalo. And you can see some of the fantastic shots he got. Go to CNN.com/LarryKing for the latest on this and other stories. Tomorrow night is our Oscar special. You will love this. Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz, Marissa Tomei and the cast of "Slumdog Millionaire" are just some of the all star nominees who will here. And Sunday night, an encore of Bill Maher.

Time now for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?