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American Morning

Plane Crash Near Buffalo, N.Y., Kills All Onboard; Investigators Head to the Scene; Witnesses Report What They Heard and Saw

Aired February 13, 2009 - 08:00   ET




JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: a deadly fiery plane crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wreckage that remains is right where apparently a house was.

ROBERTS: A Continental flight slamming into a home in western New York, killing everyone on board and one person on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blackened and charred wreckage scattered about.

ROBERTS: This morning, new information relatives and friends need to know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking about what I'm going to tell my two sons.

ROBERTS: The final transmission from the tower. And eyewitnesses describe the sights and sounds of disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hearing a horrific noise, explosions.



Good morning and thanks very much for being with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. It is Friday, the 13th of February. And unfortunately, February 13th is living up to its terrible reputation. We've got breaking news to tell you about this morning, a tragedy just outside of Buffalo, New York, an aircraft into the ground last night.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. The town called Clarence Center, New York, just a little bit east of Buffalo. We have the latest breaking news in our special edition of AMERICAN MORNING today. Federal officials are heading there to Clarence Center right now as we speak.

A Continental airlines plane went down, crashing, a direct hit into the home of a family there in Clarence Center late last night. One man inside that home was killed. A woman and her daughter were able to get out of that home only being treated for minor injuries at a hospital right now. But all 44 passengers and four crew members on board the plane were killed. Again, the house just literally going up into a ball of flames. The plane burst into what witnesses describe as a fire ball upon impact. In fact, the only recognizable part left is the tail.

The flight left from Newark. It was leaving at 9:20 p.m. last night after a two-hour delay. It was only seven miles away from the destination which was Buffalo/Niagara airport when it went down. Victims, family members are describing the shock upon hearing the initial news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking the worst and I'm 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.


ROBERTS: We are getting all kinds of dramatic video from the scene. A look at the first responders at the site. Officials say the house that the plane slammed into was destroyed, killing one man inside. I would say that the picture show that is pretty evident. The plane burst into a ball of flames.

One resident nearby said the crash, quote, "felt like a mini earthquake." And you can see the only recognizable part of the plane left after the crash was the tail section there, the horizontal stabilizer and a little bit of the vertical stabilizer as well. Seventy-four-seat turboprop plane was carrying 44 passengers and four crew members. No one survived.

As the thick smoke billowed into the air, the flames gave off tremendous heat as the fuel that was left on board the aircraft burned off. The weather at the time of the crash was icy and snowy. Upstate New York also experiencing some windy conditions, but it is unclear if the weather had anything to do with the crash, though several other pilots flying other aircraft in the area and into Buffalo did report that they were getting a buildup of ice on the windshield at the very least.

We have a rather eerie view to share with you this morning. The site of the crash on Long Street, 6038 Long Street. This is via Google Earth in their street view function, taking a look now at Long Street. This is obviously in better times, late summer, maybe early fall, and that is what we believe is 6308 Long Street. This is the house that the plane dropped on top of neatly manicured lawn there, a well-kept house.

A husband and wife -- wife at least we know was in her 50s, don't know the age of the husband -- lived inside. The husband perished in the crash. The wife and their adult daughter, 22-year old daughter who were inside the home at the time managed to get out with only minor injuries. They are in the hospital, though.

Joining us on the phone now is eyewitness Barbara Lewis. She lives just about 10 houses away from the site there where the plane came down. Barbara, can you walk us through what happened last night? Let's set the scene. It's coming into about 15 minutes after, 20 after 10:00, what happened last evening?

VOICE OF BARBARA LEWIS, LIVES NEAR CRASH SITE: I was home and I was on my computer and I heard a loud, you know, bang and my home shook and sort of trembled. I couldn't imagine what had happened. You kind of naturally think an explosion of some sort. So I went out onto my porch and other neighbors were coming out of their homes. Immediately, the fire hall is right around the corner and the sirens started going off. We have a lot of volunteer firemen in the area. They were running to respond. You could already see, you know, a lot of the orange flames down the street about 10 houses down at the end of my street.

ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness. Give us --

LEWIS: A bunch of us got dressed and walked down there.

ROBERTS: Give us some kind of idea of distance Barbara. When you talk about 10 houses away, we talking a couple hundred feet, 300 feet?

LEWIS: Maybe a little more than that. You have to cross a couple of streets, but not a long distance. I was probably at the site 12 minutes after the plane crashed.


LEWIS: And there was already quite a few people gathered down there. And when I got close enough to see where the home had been, there wasn't anything there but like a huge pile of rubble and this inferno. The house isn't even there anymore.

ROBERTS: Describe that inferno for us, if you could, Barbara.

LEWIS: Well, the yard, the entire yard was just one big, huge engulfed flame. You really couldn't see any of the details. About the only detail you could see was a large tree that the outline of it was engulfed in flames. There were, you know, over the -- in the neighboring houses. The whole yard and into the street was just one big -- like I said, an inferno. We had a lot of rain, a lot of sleet and snow here. So luckily, I don't think it had a chance to spread.

ROBERTS: Yeah. You know, a lot of people who we've talked to said that they heard the plane, they heard this high-pitched whine as the plane came out of the sky. Did you hear the aircraft at all or was the explosion the first indication you had that something had gone horribly wrong in your neighborhood?

LEWIS: It was the explosion. I don't think I -- I'm so used to hearing planes overhead, not only from the commercial airport, but the military base nearby. I just -- I don't think I even registered that sound until the crash and the movement of the house.

ROBERTS: You're right there on the flight path when they use runway 23, that one that lands to the southeast. You're right over the flight path. It's like people who live next door to the railroad tracks, eventually you stop hearing the trains. Perhaps you didn't hear the aircraft. That's an older section of Clarence Center. That was one of the original sections of the town. It's obviously grown up since then. I imagine it's a fairly tight-knit community as well, that's what we've heard from people who live there in neighboring towns. Did you happen to know the people who lived in the home?

LEWIS: No, I didn't. I don't know that family. I pass by the house every day to and from work, but, you know, I would probably recognize them. We are a close-knit community and there's a lot of community functions that go on but I didn't know them by name. I feel so horrible for the woman who lost her husband and the girl who lost her father that way.

ROBERTS: I know. I can only imagine. You know, we talked with another fellow who lives there in Clarence Center, Harry Skull. He happens to be a photographer for the "Buffalo News" and we were talking about the community and he suggested that this incident is going to forever change Clarence Center, because people will always remember the plane crash. I'm wondering what your thoughts are about that.

LEWIS: I suppose it's true. I mean, this is known as like a little hamlet. A lot of people refer to it as the four corners. There is a little intersection that has a coffee house and a little book store. We host the fair to raise the money for the volunteer fire department every year. People really associate us with that. I suppose they're right. People will now think of it as the place where the plane crashed. I never really thought of that.

ROBERTS: Where are you now, Barbara? Are you at home or were you one of the people who were evacuated in the wake of this crash?

LEWIS: No, I'm at home.

ROBERTS: Right. So what is the -- what is happening there in the neighborhood this morning?

LEWIS: A lot of activity. There's -- there, obviously have that section of the neighborhood restricted. There's a lot of news people, a lot of, you know -- a lot of people coming into the neighborhood, I think.


LEWIS: To check things out. But, you know, life goes on. The school is at the end of the street here and people still have to get to work. There's a lot of people out trying to see if there is any way they can help, you know, offering coffee or anything to eat to the emergency people.


LEWIS: But we got a little more snow overnight, but it's clear out now.

ROBERTS: Life goes on, but it's great to see that people are pitching in and trying to help out in any way they can. Barbara Lewis, thanks for being with us this morning. And of course our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody who was touched by this tragedy, whether they were on board the plane, family members or loved ones or people who were on board the plane and of course folks there in the community. Thanks for being with us this morning, Barbara. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: We have audio from air traffic controllers in the moments before this crash and there didn't appear to be any stress or fear from the flight crew. We listen now to what followed after controllers lost contact with Flight 3407.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 34-7, approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 34-7, Buffalo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 34-7, now approach.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can tell you is the aircraft's over the marker and we're not talking to them now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me get right back to you, sir. But apparently we have an emergency, and I'll get back as soon as I can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, for all aircraft this frequency, we did have a Dash 8 over the marker that didn't make the airport. It appears to be about five miles away from the airport. There, Delta 1998, I'm going to bring you in, sir, on the approach. If you could just give me fire up when you get to 2300 and if you have any problem with the localizer or anything you let me know. However we're showing that all in the green here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus, did you find Colgan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, they said he went down about right over the marker (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tower Cactus 1452's coming up on the clock and we saw the ground, you guys know what's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1452, Buffalo Tower into 26014 (ph), 23 to clear landing, yes, sir, we are aware.



CHETRY: There you hear some of the transmissions after other pilots, as well as the air traffic controllers realized that Continental flight 3407 indeed went down as they put it over the marker. Well, earlier, we talked to John Tilmon, an aviation expert, former pilot. He says that the lack of fear and the stress coming from the crew could mean that things on board went badly very quickly.


VOICE OF JIM TILMON, FORMER PILOT: I'd say that this accident started and ended catastrophically in a matter of seconds. I really don't think that there was much more time than that of the time they encountered something really awful and the time the disaster struck.


CHETRY: Witnesses say the plane came in nose down, almost in a total vertical position, which could mean that the crew lost control. Obviously, it seems to indicate that. Nothing, though, of course has been confirmed. Investigators have not even begun to dig through the rubble at the scene right now as they are still waiting for it to cool because of that massive and intense fire. We also have the communication between air traffic controllers, as well as other pilots who were in the area at the time. Those flights were reporting ice building up on their wings and we've removed some of the gaps of silence here for the sake of time so take a listen.


AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Delta 1998 (INAUDIBLE) have anything where you're at?

DELTA 1998: We picked it up on the way down. I don't think we're building any more here. But about 6500 down the -- about 3500 maybe.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: OK, thank you sir.

(END AUDIO CLIP) ROBERTS: Right now a team of officials from the National Transportation Safety Board are on their way to Buffalo. They should be arriving shortly if they are not already there now. They left Reagan national earlier this morning just after 6:00 a.m. Before departing, Steven Chealander, a spokesperson for the agency had this to say.


STEVEN CHEALANDER, NTSB SPOKESMAN: We got one flight leaving. We're wheels up at 6:00 on the first FAA airplane and then we have another wheels up at 8:30 with our investigative team going up. Transportation disaster assistance people are going. Those are the people that are going to work with families and so forth in the accident. And so we've got them going on this flight and the next flight. Plus, we've got a contingent going up on commercial aviation.


ROBERTS: It's the NTSB spokesman as they are on their way up there to Clarence Center. And an update for you now. The death toll had been 49 up until a few minutes ago. It has now been increased by one to 50. Apparently there was another person on board the plane, an off-duty pilot who was dead-heading back to Buffalo. So 49 people on board the plane, one person on the ground and the total death toll now up to 50.

John Lucich is a commercial airline pilot, flies a lot out of the New York area and we keep looking at this idea of whether weather was a contributing factor here. From everything that you have heard, listening to tapes and communications between approach control and various aircraft in the area and listening to what Rob Marciano was saying about the weather conditions in the area, it would be plausible to expect that weather could have played a contributing factor here.

JOHN LUCICH, LICENSED COMMERCIAL PILOT: Absolutely, just one correction. I was not with the airlines and I'm with --

ROBERTS: I thought you said commercial pilot.

LUCICH: No. That's OK. Yes, no. Absolutely. With the reports that are coming in right now with the fact that this airplane seemed to drop out of the sky rather quickly with no warning is more and more of an indication that it might have been ice playing a factor, because ice builds up on the leading edge of the wing. It builds up on the prop as we discussed before and it reduces lift, reduces thrust, increases the weight, increases the drag, a recipe for disaster to bring that airplane out of the sky very quickly.

CHETRY: What is different about this flight since there are hundreds of flights, thousands of flights in fact around the country that deal with these types of conditions and situations and land and take off safely.

LUCICH: It could a variety of things. First of all, number one, we don't know if this was ice yet. But if it was ice, like the one pilot had said when he was coming in, yes, we were building it but not building it now. It depends upon the conditions when you're coming in for a landing. If those conditions are right and you happen to go through it at that time, you're going to build it up and three airplanes later, they're not going to build it up.

ROBERTS: There was some indication from another flight that was in the area that there was icing between 3,500 feet and 6,000 feet which is the zone that Colgan 3407 came through on its approach to Buffalo.

LUCICH: Absolutely and it could have been the unlucky one to capture all that ice and not recognize it but I'm not saying that they did or that they didn't recognize it.

CHETRY: So the other thing, too, as well, the ways that different planes are constructed, the way that different planes are engineered to deal with ice, does that also make a difference?

LUCICH: Absolutely it does as well as how rapidly that ice is building. If you just get a thin layer and it never goes past that, then you're fine but if it starts building rapidly because of the conditions. But each one of these aircrafts should be equipped because they know they are flying into Buffalo. Like I said, I landed there at least a couple of a hundred times. You know that Buffalo is tough weather. You get how many inches of snow up in Buffalo. Everybody knows this. So they're equipped when they are going into this and they should have had, which I believe they did, all of the equipment necessary and sophistication to get past that.

ROBERTS: Not to suggest that this is related but it's an interesting point of reference and it's passed along by our crack investigative reporter Drew Griffin who is combing through the safety files regarding the Dash 8 aircraft and found a report from the Canadian transportation safety board, which is their version of the NTSB. It was a flight out of St. John's Newfoundland to Deer Lake, Newfoundland in Labrador on May 27th, 2005. A Dash 8 climbed out of Newfoundland, St. John's Newfoundland on auto pilot.

The weather was cold. It got colder as the plane went higher. About 14,000, the co-pilot noticed that the speed of the aircraft was beginning to decrease and suddenly the shaker stick warning went off and this is to indicate a pending stall, flipped off the auto pilot. The pilot took a look out over the left side and saw ice built up on the air intake of the engine.

Suddenly the plane stalled, dove right and down. They went down 4,200 feet before he regained control of the aircraft. Now, fortunately he was at 14,400 feet when that happened, but if you're at 2,300 feet on approach flying slow to an airport and suddenly you experience something like that, what is the outcome?

LUCICH: Outcome is exactly what it was with them. They go through this training. The real people I feel sorry for are the people in back who don't know what that's like to go through. Let's just put it in perspective so people understand what a stall is. A stall is an abrupt loss of lift. It has nothing to do with the engines quitting. If you reach that critical angle of attack (ph), your airplane is going to drop. The one thing that you do to recover from a stall is get that nose down.

So if that nose went down, you're already going into recovery mode. As you travel down through 4,200 feet, you're changing altitude. It's very possible that the altitude was changing -- the temperature was also changing with that altitude to help melt that ice off and help them recover.

ROBERTS: If you're at 14,400 feet you got a nice buffer, but if you're at 2,300 feet, there's not much room for error.

LUCICH: Absolutely, which is why it's more dangerous when you're coming in for taking off and landing, because there's no room for error. Here in the Newfoundland flight that you were talking about, they had more than enough time to recover and thank God they did, but the one thing you do when you get your nose -- it doesn't matter why you're stalled. The fact is you're stalled. The nose goes down, starts recovery, get the winds, the relative wind flowing over those wings again and then start to bring it back.

CHETRY: So the average flyer who is not an aviation expert and want you guys as pilots to know all this stuff and doesn't know how it works themselves, how do you assure anybody that this won't happen again or that this isn't something that we could see more of? I mean, we always, I think, as you rightly pointed out, it's safer to fly than it is to drive. Meaning more people are killed on the roads every year than of course they are in the sky. We haven't had a crash like this in, I think, 2 1/2 years. It hasn't been since a commuter airline crash. But how do you reassure people this type of stuff can't happen to them?

LUCICH: You can't reassure people of that because something might happen somewhere down the road where there is a mechanical failure, whatever it's going to be. But if you take a look at the statistics, it is, like you said, it's safer to fly in an airplane than drive. The reason we see so much fear about airplane crashes is because when the airplane goes down, a lot of people die at one time and we don't hear about how many tens of thousands of people die across the United States in car accidents and they don't even come close to how many people die a year in airplane accidents.

ROBERTS: We have talked frequently this morning about the robust de-icing system aboard this Dash 8 aircraft. It's got electric heaters on the leading edge of the propellers. It's got an inflatable boot system along the leading edge of the wing. And it's interesting to note that in this incident that I described to you in St. John's Newfoundland, they had turned on the propeller heaters but they had not turned on the boots and there was no automatic indicator that was there an ice buildup on the wings.

Now, this was a brand new aircraft. It had only commissioned in 2008. You might think, is there an ice sensor? But would it be possible? I'm not asking you speculate what happened here, but would it be possible to come into an airport like Buffalo, have the propeller de-ice system turned on but not have the wing de-ice system turned on?

LUCICH: The wing de-ice system is not something that you turn on. As you indicated it was a booted wing. If it, in fact, was a booted wing as opposed to a heated wing you actually manually activate that when you see the ice build up itself so it breaks it off. Like I said, if it stayed on, it would just be inflated and it would build up around that and that would be even more disastrous. Yes, it could build up that quick.

As we talked about, the American Eagle flight that you had brought up before, how quickly that seemed to go awry with the guy just flying along and said what was that? And I'm paraphrasing because I haven't heard that tape for the last couple of years, but then he fell out of the sky within seconds after that and everybody died on board. They later found out they shouldn't be flying those airplanes in that particular part of the country.

ROBERTS: It was in Indiana and it was flying through freezing rain and suddenly turned over and plowed into a corn field.

LUCICH: One last point, when you take a look at the people who drive a car, and some of them are crazies out there and they don't always drive the best of equipment. These pilots who fly for regional airlines and who fly for major airlines are highly, highly trained. They have to go through retraining every so often, and they fly the best equipment out there. That right there should convince you that it is a major reduction in your risk, increase in your safety in flying these airplanes.

CHETRY: I think that is why there is always such interest surrounding when we hear about planes crashing because we don't expect it to happen, certainly.

LUCICH: Absolutely. Every airline has the same thing. They've got a sophisticated equipment and great safety records.

CHETRY: Why don't they all have heated wings?

LUCICH: It all depends on the design of the airplane.

CHETRY: John Lucich, thank you so much for your expertise this morning. And right we're going to check in with Deb Feyerick. She is live at the crash site for us this morning in Clarence Center. I understand there they're still keeping the media, as well as the public far enough back. They are concerned still about preserving the integrity of that site as they try to figure out what went wrong.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. They've got to cordon off the entire area. This way they can gather whatever evidence is left. We understand that the medical examiner is on scene as well. They are going to be piecing all the remains of the plane just to see if they can find any specific answers. We can tell you, Kiran, that it was in the air what it was like on the ground. We drove all night to get here and the conditions were treacherous. It was icy. It was rainy. There was very little visibility. You crack the window and the car was freezing, so really treacherous conditions. We don't know what the pilot was experiencing at the time, but we can tell you a lot of people here in the community just don't understand how a plane could simply fall out of the sky. One of the residents, David Luce, you live 300 feet from where this all happened. Tell me a little bit about what you heard when this plane went down around 10:00 last night.

DAVID LUCE, EYEWITNESS: We heard -- well, the plane. It was unusually loud so clearly, it was low. But the engine sounded like they were revving at very high speed, unnatural sound. We're quite used to them and usually we don't pay attention but this obviously was something a little different. And then the engine cut out and stopped. And then within a couple of seconds, there was a tremendous explosion. So all of that happened in a period of about 15 or 20 seconds.

FEYERICK: You hear planes all the time. They fly over your house but this one really caught your attention. This one made you stop.

LUCE: Right. And every once in a while, you have a plane that is coming very low and sounds unusual. We've heard planes occasionally sort of drop an engine or something like that. We hear a funny sound but this was rather different. But, again, you know, with the weather the way it was, I thought -- my thought was this is just another plane flying very low for the moment.

FEYERICK: Tell me about the weather. What were the conditions at around 10:00 last night?

LUCE: It was a light rain, drizzle, freezing rain, snow but no wind. But it was certainly right at the borderline, right at freezing and raining.

FEYERICK: You use the word revving, the engines sounded as if they were revving. Did the engine sound as if they were in distress? Did it sound -- just describe the revving.

LUCE: Well, usually when the planes are coming in, they aren't running the engines hard. You know? The way they are on a takeoff, for example. What it sounded to me was almost like a plane taking off where the engines are running at full speed.

FEYERICK: Between that moment, you say about 15 seconds went by. Then what did you hear?

LUCE: Well, the explosion. It was an enormous explosion. I mean, it sounded like it hit frankly right in our backyard. We weren't sure where it had hit. But it was really two or three very quick explosions.

FEYERICK: The impact, did your house shake?

LUCE: The house --

FEYERICK: You live only a couple of houses away.

LUCE: The house shook. The windows shook. The ground shook is the way it felt. It was a real blast.

FEYERICK: Your wife, Mary Jane, is now also joining us. Mrs. Luce, thank you so much. We appreciate it. Your husband was telling us about the sound he heard in the engines. Can you tell us a little bit about what you heard as well?

MARY JANE LUCE: It sounded like a roaring, a very, very loud sound like it was right over our heads. You had the feeling it was going to come right down on you. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped, absolute silence for a few seconds and then the explosion.

FEYERICK: The explosion that you heard, one massive explosion, a series of explosions?

M.J. LUCE: The first one I only heard one mass explosion and it sort of rocked the house, but you know, hard to say whether that was one or more. But when we went outside, you heard a lot of smaller explosions that were varying in degree. It went on for 15 or 20 minutes maybe.

FEYERICK: So multiple explosions for about 15 to 20 minutes?

M.J. LUCE: You felt like you wanted to go over closer to see if you could help people in the houses or in the plane, but you didn't dare because things were still exploding and you didn't know what was exploding. Some people thought maybe the car had been in the garage there and it exploded.

FEYERICK: What did it look like? You're hearing these explosions. Talk to me a little bit about the fire and just how powerful that was.

D. LUCE: Well, the fire was probably 50 feet in the air. We looked back over a house behind us that partly blocked the view of where the plane was, at least twice the height of the house. Looking up very, very high in the air. So we walked around the corner where we could see directly and all there was, at that point on the ground, was a pile of rubble. I mean the house was gone. That was probably no more than a minute and a half or two minutes after. And my guess is that the house disintegrated probably pretty closely on impact. And there was thick black smoke and obviously there was fuel burning.

FEYERICK: You could smell the jet fuel. Talk to me about, that you said people ran out but they just couldn't help. It was too bad. The community, talk to me about the people who were trying --

M.J. LUCE: The people who live nearby were all running and checking on whether neighbors had gotten out and trying to figure out who might have been in the house when it was hit and seeing if everybody was accounted for. And there was no approaching the fire. So there was no -- no thought really of even trying to help the people on the plane because it just wasn't possible. D. LUCE: When you looked at the site, it was pretty clear that it was unlikely that anybody had survived it. It was just an immediate fireball.

FEYERICK: OK. And you knew that instantly?

D. LUCE: Just immediate thought was that nobody survived this.

FEYERICK: OK. The firefighters, they put forward a heroic effort, it seems.

M.J. LUCE: Oh, yes. They were there. They were - I couldn't believe how close some of them were getting to the fire when it was at its fiercest. And then they showed up, truck after truck and company after company and laid hoses from both directions and started wetting down the houses around and doing what they could, and then they started putting something, I don't know what they were putting on the fire itself, whether it was water or foam or -

FEYERICK: The family, do you know the family who lived in that house?

M.J. LUCE: No, we do not. They are an older couple, we knew that, with a couple of grown daughters, but other than that, we didn't know them.

FEYERICK: OK. Well, Mary Jane and David, thank you so much for joining us this morning. And we really appreciate your describing this so eloquently.

D. LUCE: You're welcome.

FEYERICK: So Kiran, that is a little bit of a description of what happened last night. Clearly, this fire burning for a very long time. Medical examiner has set up on the scene and, right now, they are looking for whatever they can find. Kiran, John.

CHETRY: That's right. Deborah Feyerick, thank you. You will obviously going to be attending this press conference that's scheduled for about 30 minutes from now at the town hall in Clarence Center.

We are expecting to hear more but again they are not even able to really get to the scene. They think it will be almost noon before they are able to even start to sift through what is left of Continental Flight 3407, simply because of the heat that was left when that 5,000 pounds of fuel started burning upon impact at that house.

So again at 9:00, a press conference scheduled from some of the officials there in Buffalo to let us know what they've learned throughout the early morning hours.

And right now, we want to bring you up to date on the latest developments from this scene in suburban Buffalo. This Continental Airlines commuter plane nose-diving into a house, killing all 49 people on board and one person in the house. Yes, we learned that there was, indeed, another person on board. Actually an off-duty pilot who was not part of the original flight register but we've later learned was, unfortunately, on that plane.

Witnesses say there were flames shooting 50 to a hundred feet into the air. Officials say that Continental connection flight was just minutes from landing. In fact, less than six miles from Buffalo- Niagara Airport when it simply fell off the radar. A totally mystery now surrounding why it went down. There was no mayday call from the pilot. In fact, all communication was normal until air traffic control lost the plane.

This is an amazing view of what the home looked like before last night. This is made possible through Google street view. There you have a chance to see, zooming in on that quiet neighborhood just east of Buffalo. In the middle of what would appear to be your typical American suburb before disaster came out of nowhere. That is the home. Three people inside at the time. 6038 Long Street when the flight crashed into it around 10:15 last night.

We're learning that a mother and daughter escaped. They were hospitalized with minor injuries while the father, the male in his, what we believe either 50s or 60s, did not make it out alive. So again, a street view of that quiet community and what that home looked like before yesterday's unexpected tragedy came upon them.

ROBERTS: We're also learning about the 50 people who perished in this disaster. And the Associated Press, quoting Pinnacle Airlines, says that the pilot was Capt. Marvin Renslow. The first officer who we hear on the tapes with air traffic control was Rebecca Shaw, two flight attendants, Matilda Quintero and Donna Prisco, and the off-duty crew member who is dead heading back to Buffalo was Captain Joseph Zuffoletto.

Of course, 44 passengers on board. One man in Buffalo talking to reporters about his sister who was on board that aircraft. Another woman's sister, 9/11 widow was also on the flight. We want to bring in our Alina Cho, now who has got more on these tragic stories of family members who lost loved ones.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And when you hear the crew members name, there is something about attaching a name to the tragedy that makes it all the more tragic and heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and really. We are hearing all of those stories this morning, John. Good morning.

If you are one of the victims' families, that feeling, that sinking feeling really never leaves you and there is simply no way to explain the sadness. We are getting new information this hour too about Beverly Eckert. She is a 9/11 widow who according to "The Buffalo News" was also a passenger on Flight 3407.

We are just learning now that just last week, Eckert was actually at the White House with President Obama. She was part of a meeting with the president and President Obama had with relatives of those killed on 9/11 and the bombing of the USS Cole. They were discussing how the new administration would handle terror suspects.

Eckert was actually headed to Buffalo this weekend for what was supposed to be a celebration of what would have been her husband's 58th birthday. Family members told "The Buffalo News." We know she was on that plane and now she is with him. Alise Hausner(ph) was also a passenger on Flight 3407. Her brother, Chris, first heard the news on the radio. He then called his parents immediately. They are in Florida and then he talked to reporters. Take a listen.


CHRIS HAUSNER (ph), LOST SISTER IN PLANE CRASH: My parents are on vacation in Florida and I had to call down there and tell my father what was going on. And I was thinking about my mom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are they taking it?

HAUSNER (ph): To tell you the truth, I heard my mother make a noise on the phone that I never heard before. My other sister Laura was waiting at the airport. I heard on the radio that they are having a crash, so I called immediately to see if the plane had landed at the airport or not. And initially, she thought that it had but it turns out that was not the case.

Right now, I'm thinking the worst, and I'm 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.


CHO: Just imagine what that family is going through and there are so many similar stories that are coming out. There are dozens of eyewitness accounts coming into CNN as well, including one young mother who told us what she heard and how she felt when the plane came down in her neighborhood.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard a very low plane. It sounded like it had engine trouble and it was sputtering and, all of a sudden, quiet. And then my son said he saw a flash and we looked outside and it was just a red glow. Unbelievable. Never saw anything like that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very scary. Children were hearing it over the house. It could have been our house.


CHO: It also could have been Suzy Reinhardt, an incredible tale of survival. She actually travels from Newark to Buffalo every Thursday, including last night. Her plane was actually delayed, so she thought for a moment about getting on Flight 3407 but at the very last minute, for whatever reason, she decided not to.

Here is how she described the scene at the airport when her flight landed.


VOICE OF SUZY REINHARDT, ALMOST BOARDED FLIGHT 3407: Nobody said anything. We got our bags and it was late. There were other planes that were delayed, and now that I look back at it, I'm thinking there were an awful lot of people waiting for passengers.

I'm thinking, who is waiting for somebody at 11:00 at night on a Thursday? And it turns out it was these people waiting for people to get off that plane.

My phone didn't stop ringing because I'm almost always on that flight every Thursday. I'm on -- everyone knows, Suzy is on the flight from Newark to Buffalo.


REINHARDT: Yes. My phone just kept ringing. People were saying, one of my best friend called me and said my husband made me get out of bed and call to see if you made it home.


CHO: What a relief for those people who love Suzy Reinhardt. And imagine, guys, just what she must have been feeling when she received those phone calls. Not quite knowing what had happened at that point when she got off the plane. And also, I can only imagine that she must be replaying in her mind this morning just trying to remember the faces of those people that she saw when she walked off that plane at 11:00 at night. Saw them, didn't know that they were waiting for flight 3407. Of course, now she knows what happened and just the gravity of it all must be weighing on her this morning.

ROBERTS: Yes and you can imagine by the idea that she almost made the decision to get on the flight and then for whatever reason decided not to.

CHO: Yes. We were talking earlier about this. I mean, there is something called survivor's guilt. You know, people who survive, you know, plane crashes or cheat death in some way or another as she did. You know, I'm sure there is a range of emotions that she is feeling. And again this is just one story. There are so many stories. A lot of them just haven't even come out yet.

ROBERTS: You know, life is a series of, you know, choices along. Do I turn right here? Do I turn left? Do I stop? What choice do I make? I mean, she obviously made the right one to stay on that aircraft.

CHO: Yes, she did.

ROBERTS: Alina, thanks.

In just the past hour, President Obama issuing a statement on the crash. It says, "Michelle and I are deeply saddened to hear the tragic accident outside of Buffalo last night. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved one. I want to thank the brave first responders who arrived immediately to try to save lives and who are continuing to ensure the safety of everyone in the area. We pray for all of those who have been touched by this terrible tragedy to find peace and comfort in the hard days ahead."

CHETRY: On the phone right now Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown joins us this morning. Thanks for being with us this morning, Mr. Mayor. This is the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in 2 1/2 years in the United States, and it happens right in your backyard.

I imagine it's quite a difficult time for your city and the surrounding areas this morning. Tell us a little bit about what's going on.

VOICE OF MAYOR BYRON BROWN, BUFFALO, NEW YORK: Well, it is a very difficult time. It's a real tragedy. Western New York is a very close-knit community and while the crash occurred about 15 minutes outside of the city of Buffalo, there are probably residents of our city and many of the neighboring communities that were on that flight. So we are all very deeply saddened and our thoughts and prayers are with the family members, friends, and loved ones of those that were lost.

CHETRY: Yes. I understand that a lot of the family members arrived at the Buffalo Airport. They were actually taken to a senior citizens center in the neighboring town of Chiqtuaga (ph), where there were counselors as well as representatives from Continental doing everything that they can to help right now. But I imagine that as the days and weeks progress here, it's going to be quite a difficult time for your community. Did you get any update? Have you been able to find out who was involved and what link they have to your community?

BROWN: Not at this time. My colleague in government, the area county executive, Chris Collins, has been on scene. He has been working with the emergency first responders and others. He spoke to me this morning. I offered any assistance that the city of Buffalo could provide. He told me that at this point, it is pretty much a recovery mission.

He indicated that the site was pretty well contained right now and that they were doing everything possible on the ground to extinguish the flames and to recover the remains of the passengers.

CHETRY: You know, in what can really only be described as just unbelievably cruel to us the fate of Beverly Eckert who was the widow of her husband and childhood sweetheart killed in 9/11 in the Twin Towers and she was headed to Buffalo actually to celebrate what would have been his 58th birthday with his family and their loved ones and she, as we are now learning, was on this flight as well. I mean, what goes through your mind when you hear these stories of human tragedy like that?

BROWN: You know what? It just gives you chills what a terrible tragedy for the family to experience the first loss of Ms. Eckert's husband during 9/11, that attack on our country, and then to lose her in this tragic way. My heart certainly goes out to that family. My wife, Michelle and I, were watching the news reports this morning and we saw that one story of Beverly Eckert and it really just gave us both chills.

CHETRY: Yes. We all certainly felt the same way. Well you guys are known as the city of good neighbors. I'm sure that in the days and weeks to come you're going to be living up to that reputation. Mayor Byron Brown from Buffalo, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

And CNN's Allan Chernoff is live for us at Newark area hub. It's Newark-Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. That's the place where the flight took off last night. You know, Allan it was also interesting when we talked to our own Donna Brazile, CNN political analyst here. She also was on a flight last night and ended up getting canceled, one out of La Guardia and then JFK headed to Buffalo at 5:30 and we also knew that last night, this particular flight, Continental flight was also delayed two hours because of weather. What are you learning today?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the delays here at Newark last night were partially due to extremely strong winds. We still do have strong winds this morning, although flights have been arriving and taking off. We can tell you that last night, I understand that there were some family members who did come here after hearing of the crash and a Continental representative informed us that they are meeting the needs of family members. By that, he said he meant, well, they are supplying a room where people can gather. They're not revealing exactly where that room is. And I can tell you that we've searched through this airport, have not been able to find any family members at all.

Also, Continental is providing travel for those who wish to go up to Buffalo, and the very first flight to Buffalo from Newark departed at 6:40 this morning. In fact, a flight arrived from Buffalo just a little while ago, and we're hoping to at least get some response from people who were on that flight.

Also, keep in mind, of course, as we've been reporting, this was not a flight run by Continental Airlines, but, rather, by a company called Colgan Air, which is part of Pinnacle Air. They are a regional airline. And the chief executive officer said there is just almost nothing he can say to console family members.


PHILIP H. TRENARY, PRESIDENT & CEO, PINNACLE AIRLINES COM: I don't think there is anything I can say to the families that would ease their pain. You say you're sorry. You ask what you can do. That's about it.


CHERNOFF: Continental is operating a regular schedule, both to and from Buffalo, today. Back to you in the studio.

CHETRY: Allan Chernoff for us at Newark-Liberty this morning. Thank you. ROBERTS: So far this morning, we've heard from a lot of people who heard the crash. Some of them who heard that the plane actually coming in and the sound of the engines but so far we haven't talked to anybody who actually saw the airplane itself. Well, until now.

Deborah Feyerick is talking to Tony Taitro this morning. He lives right beside the crash site. This should be a very interesting interview because he actually had eyes on the aircraft as it was coming in.

FEYERICK: He did. As a matter of fact, he lives about one house over from where the crash happened. You saw this. I want you to start from the very beginning when you heard something and then what you saw.

TONY TAITRO, LIVES BESIDE CRASH SITE: Well, I was actually driving home from the gym. It was about 10:15 and I was heading east on Clarence Center Road, and I saw the plane coming from my right to my left which is northeast. The exact opposite direction the plane would have been going had it been going to the airport. So I don't know if they were making a swing and just the swing never happened or what had happened but it was heading the absolutely opposite direction of the airport.

The plane was nose down and not as steep as being reported but it was steep enough that it didn't look right. And the left wing was tilted lower than the right. So it was pitched and it was headed down.

FEYERICK: So you talk about the pitch. Let me just - if this is the plane, OK? Show me how it was pitched. Where would it normally be.

TAITRO: It's coming this way, nose down, tilted to the left.


TAITRO: So I was able to see the underbelly of the plane. It was only about 75 feet above me when it crossed the road. And it was literally within seconds of impact. Impact happened about 10:17 because I had called 911 within seconds of impact and that is the record that I've got on my phone.

FEYERICK: When you -- what did you hear? Did you hear something?

TAITRO: Yes. The engines -- I heard the engines. Had the windows up in my car obviously because it was chilly but the engines didn't sound typical, didn't sound normal. I don't fly a whole bunch but I've known enough to know what a typical sounding engine is and this wasn't typical.

Of course, coming down as quickly as it was and at the trajectory it was it probably wouldn't sound normal anyway. Also with it being that close. So I can't say that there was engine failure or anything like that but it didn't sound typical. FEYERICK: How fast - and this may sound like a simple question but how fast was the plane going? Did the pilot seem as if he had control of the plane or was it in free-fall?

TAITRO: It wasn't straight down and it wasn't spinning or anything like that. I don't think that the pilot would have had control at that point. From where it crossed my path, the road to where it impacted the ground was only a couple of blocks and it happened literally within fractions of seconds. I would be afraid to say how fast it was going. But it was on a bad trajectory and a bad direction.

FEYERICK: OK. People are describing the way it crashed is almost as a direct hit. It hit one house and nothing else.

TAITRO: Right.

FEYERICK: Talk to me about what you saw.

TAITRO: Well, that speaks to the trajectory of the plane. Had it been on a flatter trajectory it would have impacted more than just the one house. The two homes on either side, the one home on either side. So two homes are relatively close to the house that was hit. Had the plane been any flatter it would have hit either or both of those homes.

So yes, it was relatively steep for it to hit just the one house. And by the time that I had parked my car, literally, one block from where I made the 911 call, gotten out and gone through a yard it was a matter of minutes after impact and the home was completely destroyed already at that point. Fully engulfed in flames, 30 and 40 feet high.

The heat was intense enough that you couldn't get to the same side of the street. You had to be a street wet removed in order to just stand and observe. The rescue crews were there quick. We've got the volunteer fire department that was within a block and a half from the accident. There's a state trooper barracks, New York state troopers and the sheriff's department here in county sheriff's office are relatively close and they were there quickly but there wasn't anything they could do.

FEYERICK: So it's pretty clear that there were no survivors?

TAITRO: Yes. I was asked the question shortly after impact and I didn't want to speculate but seeing the trajectory that it was on and seeing the flames immediately after impact, I would have been hard-crossed to say that anybody could have made it.

FEYERICK: OK. And one of the things that Tony was saying was a lot of police are on the ground pretty quickly afterwards.

And they said, if you see something simply leave it where it is. Don't touch it. Again, all these part of the investigation. Kiran, John.

ROBERTS: Deb Feyerick for us, fascinating interview and I'm sure that NTSB investigators are going to want to talk to that gentleman too when they get there.

Here now, the latest developments from the tragic scene in suburban Buffalo, New York. Continental Airlines commuter plane nose- diving into a house killing all 49 on board and one person on the ground in the house. Witnesses say there were flames shooting 50 to 100 feet in the air.

Officials say Continental connection flight 3407 was just minutes from landing, less than six miles from Buffalo's Niagara International Airport when it simply fell off the radar. Total mystery surrounding why it went down at this point. There was no mayday call from the pilot either. In fact, all communication appeared to be quite normal until air traffic control simply lost the plane.

At the time Flight 3407 went down conditions in Buffalo were icy with light snow and no way of confirming right now if weather had anything to do with the crash. The pilots in the area were reporting ice forming on their wings and, in some cases, on the windshield. Here is some communication between air traffic controllers and pilots on other flights. We have condensed the sound for the sake of time and removing some stretches of silence. Listen to this.


AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Delta 1998. Do you have any icing where you're at?

DELTA 1998: Uhh... we picked it up on the way down. I don't think we're building any more here. but about 6500 down the -- about 3,500 maybe?

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: OK. Thank you, sir.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Are getting any kind of icing or anything there?

DELTA 1998: It doesn't appear to be building. We've got about a half-inch, quarter-inch on us from the descend that has remained with us the whole time.

CACTUS 1452: Set the road for Cactus 1452. And we've been picking up on ice here for, oh, the last 10 minutes.

Fifty-two, sir. We've been getting ice since 10-20 miles south of the airport.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cactus 1452 OK? If you could let me know when you get out of the ice. Aircraft coming up from the south was reporting that earlier.

CACTUS 1452: 1452 and the ice is starting to come off the windscreen now... any kind of information we can get, we'd appreciate.

DELTA 1998: A little fluctuation at 1,500.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: So it was at 1,500 feet?


CHETRY: All right. So that's the little snippet of what the transmissions were like between the pilots and the air traffic at the time. And we want to bring John Lucich, our aviation expert. He was a commercial pilot for years as well.

You had a chance to hear that eyewitness Tony Taitro who spoke with our Deb Feyerick saying about -- he's one of the only people, at least that we've talked to this morning who actually saw the plane in the moments before the crash, and he was dialing 911, he said at 10:17 at the moment of impact. What about the description nose down and what did he say? It sort of looked like it was banking to the left?

LUCICH: Banking to the left, what I believe he was trying to say the airplane was in a dive. We don't know why and I wouldn't want to speculate on why that left wing was down. It could have been the fact that it was in a left turn or it could have been the fact that it lost control of the airplane. Because when it comes down to it, a pilot is never going to have a nose so far down. But the other side of the thing is if the ice and if it was ice, just form on the wing and you're starting to get that stick shaker and starting to stall, then you need to lower the nose as much as possible and keep the airplane flying.

So without knowing exactly what the cause is, I have no idea when he was in that position especially when the guy said he was going the opposite way to the airport.

ROBERTS: Just to back up for a second, you mentioned the word stick shaker. Can you explain to folks at home what a stick shaker is?

LUCICH: Yes. What happens is when you stall an airplane which means you have an abrupt loss of lift, nothing to do with the engines and it's just going to fall out of the sky, before that happens you have a stall warning horn in some aircraft which you actually hear that screaming, you know, it gets louder as it gets closer to a stall or you have a stick shaker. And the yolk that you're holding on will actually go like this and you know, just trying to let you know there's a serious problem here and they're very effective, as we discussed in the flight.

ROBERTS:. Yes. I remember learning to fly a Cesna 152, you didn't have a stick shaker, you just hit that stall warning. A little horn that went off and suddenly the aircraft drops out.

LUCICH: Exactly. I'm a flight instructor for many years. I an tell you pilots train for this and they know what to do.

CHETRY: But if you say it has nothing to do with the engines what else goes on that could cause you to just lose lift in mid air?

LUCICH: Well even if both engines go out you're not going to lose lift. This airplane has a glide ratio like what you saw with the U.S. Air into the Hudson River, right? A beautiful big airplane like that took it down nicely. So the only thing that could have caused something to happen this quick is a catastrophic failure of an air frame or a mechanical device or something like ice.

CHETRY: And what does it tell you, if anything, from this eyewitness who spoke to our Deb Feyerick. What does it tell you if anything that - from this eyewitness who spoke with our Deb Feyerick about the fact that it was going in the opposite direction, or "wrong direction" from where it would be going in for a landing.

LUCICH: Well, two points about what he said. Number one, I don't believe it was mechanical failure. Because he said as he saw the airplane he didn't see any damage on it. I believe that's what he said.

ROBERTS: Not like a wing fell off.

LUCICH: Right. It's not like a wing fell off or an engine trouble, you would know that and see that. OK. So I would throw away the first part. As far as going the wrong way, which way to the airport, I don't know what that means.

I have no idea what these pilots were doing at the time or what was going on with the airplane whether it was in control or whether it's not in control but once they go out there and do their investigation, they're going to find out what happened and while they may never be able to say that this was definitely ice, it will probably come back to a conclusion that if nothing else was wrong, that it was most likely ice.

ROBERTS: You're flying at 2,300 feet, if you got an ice buildup, and not to suggest that is what happened in this case...

LUCICH: Right.

ROBERTS: ... but if you get a significant ice buildup to the point where you might accidentally initiate a stall, how quickly do you lose control of the aircraft? I mean, absolute control?

LUCICH: Well if you stall the airplane, you will lose control. It's going to go down but you can get control. The problem of being at 2,300 feet and flying an airplane of this size and speed is very, very little room for error as opposed being up in altitude.

CHETRY: I want to show our viewers because we were talking you were talking about this all morning about the boot. This is the actual aircraft that we're referring to right now. This was the actual plane that crashed, this flight 3407. Explain what the boots are.

LUCICH: OK. If you look at the wing -

CHETRY: Hopefully, we can go back to this.

LUCICH: If we can go back to the leading edge the front part of the wing which faces the wind, that's going to hit the relative wind and gives it lift you'll see a black strip going around - wrap around the front of that wing. That is the boot itself. If you look at the horizontal and vertical stabilizers in the back of the airplane, one going at the top and one going up and down, you'll see that same black strip going across and going up and down just by the Continental seal there. Those are the boots. Those are the things that actually come out and deploy and break the ice off if that is a booted airplane.

CHETRY: You're saying that the pilot has to do that manually? That's not an auto?


ROBERTS: So it's a sort of situation where it's like if you had a balloon and it hits a buildup of ice on the balloon you put a little bit more air into it and it breaks the ice?

LUCICH: That's exactly what they are. They are balloons, they blow up and they block and then they go back down and deflate.

ROBERTS: Well, it's fascinating to hear Tony Taitro talk about what happened with that aircraft. It almost sounds like it was making a sharp left-hand turn and maybe going around in a spiral which can happen when you are in a stall situation.

LUCICH: Absolutely. And it could have been that they were setting up for whatever landing they were trying to set up. I don't know.

CHETRY: All right. Well, I want to thank you for being with us. A long morning for you. You've been with us since we went to air at 4:00 a.m. and your expertise is very much appreciated. John Lucich, thanks so much.

LUCICH: Thanks for having me on.

CHETRY: And we're also getting a new video coming into the scene, coming from the scene right now. We want to show you. a look at the first responders when they made their way to the site. You can see it's still dark and there's still a lot of smoke coming up from that initial fire. Officials say that the House that the plane slammed into just obliterated, destroyed one man inside, killed. we did hear, though, that his wife and daughter, adult daughter were able to make it out alive which is really quite miraculous when you look at what is left there of the devastation of this home.

Literally just the footprints left. The plane burst into a ball of flame. One resident nearby saying that it felt like a mini earthquake at the time of the crash. And here you can see the only recognizable part of the aircraft after the crash appears to be the tail. The 74-seat turboprop plane carrying 44 passengers and four crew members.

And also we learned just within the last 30 minutes, also, an off-duty pilot who was also on that plane at the time and, unfortunately, no one survived that. Reports say that there was a strong pungent smell of jet fuel and, of course, the smell of the burning and the thick black smoke billowing into the air. These flames gave off tremendous heat as the fuel burned and the weather at the time of the crash was icy and snowy as well.

Winds estimated around 13 to 17 miles per hour and not as huge of a factor. New York, though, experiencing very windy conditions and it's unclear if weather had anything to do right now with this crash. Of course, we're going to try to find out more details. We're expecting actually just in the next couple of minutes to hear in a press conference some of the officials there.

ROBERTS: Another piece of information coming in from our investigative reporter Drew Griffin who is looking into past incidents involving the Dash 8. We talked about this incident out of St. John's where they were climbing up to 14,000 feet and suddenly they got ice on the wings, the plane dropped 4,200 feet.

He says according to the transportation safety board mechanic report, that plane, it actually rolled to the right. It was 65 degrees of roll and which would be about like that, and 40 degrees nose down which would seem to sort of match the description that Tony Taitro gave us about that. Not to suggest that it was icing that caused this crash but as a point of reference, it's interesting to see that comparison.

CHETRY: So the same initial situation or a similar initial situation made very different by the altitude. I mean, the fact that they were so close.

ROBERTS: At 2,300 feet, not much room for error.

CHETRY: No time for a recovery. Well we want to thank you for being with us this morning. We've been doing our best to give you as much information as possible about this tragic situation. And right now CNN's special coverage continues with our Heidi Collins.