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Commuter Plain Out of Newark Crashes in Buffalo, New York

Aired February 13, 2009 - 03:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, I just want to recap for our viewers, who are just joining us. It is 3 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States, where we have been witnessing just a horrific evening. A Continental Connections flight operated by Colgan Air, Flight 3407, which departed from Newark Airport earlier this evening, crashed just outside of Buffalo, just outside of Clarence Center at approximately 10:17 p.m. There were 48 people onboard this plane, 44 passengers, four crew members, all of them have perished, there are no survivors from onboard this plane.

The plane crashed, nosedived, into a house. One person inside that house, also killed, two people who were apparently on the second floor of the house, I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, if my information is correct, two people from inside that house were taken to the hospital and we do not have an update on their condition. We are still waiting to hear exactly on their status.

There were very little communication from the aircraft, as you've just been hearing, if you've been listening to us for awhile. Eyewitnesses reported hearing a strange sound in the sky. This is a community that is use to hearing planes, it's on the approach to the airport in Buffalo, so their use to hearing engines in the sky.

We've had two eyewitnesses tell us that the sound that they heard emitting from this aircraft was different that what they normally hear. There was a little bit of sleet and rain, according to one official.

Another person who was a passenger on another plane traveling in the same area, said it was cloudy and foggy and some rain, as well, a little bit of bumps on their flight, but nothing too dramatic on that other flight.

And investigation is progress. The area around the site of the crash, which you've been looking at the pictures, has been secured, as officials say. They've evacuated 12 homes in the surrounding area, but it's really only the one home, as far as we know at this point, that has been damaged. And it has been, with words of one official, flattened.

That official, of course, Chris Collins, said that it was a surreal scene at site. And I mean, you see it right there, the images are surreal. That tail of the aircraft still intact, sticking out of the ground, surrounded by the flames, there to the left side of the screen, coming from that house.

One eyewitness that we talked to, who hear the crash, hear the sound of the plane, the strange noise in the sky and the explosion, ran to the scene with other members of the community, her neighbors. There was a secondary explosion, as well, it may have been oxygen tank, it may have been something else aboard that plane, but there was a lot of burning fuel, flames rising 40 to 50 feet high in the sky, according to various eyewitnesses.

First responders, responding, getting there very, very quickly. There's a firehouse very close to the crash scene. People were there within minutes, according to some officials. Again, there's a number now for family members who have been gathering at Buffalo, waiting first of any kind of news. And now, of course, they have the worst possible news. And for any family members out there, the number is 1- 800-621-3263.

We've been getting a number of iReports from people in the community, people who arrived on the scene. I want to show you some of their images and some of what they have had to say.


ANTHONY TRIGILIO, IREPORTER: What happened was, I heard the plane crash. Didn't know it was a plane at the time, and my mom had let me know that there was something big going on down the street, so I grabbed my camcorder, grabbed a tape, put on my hoddie and just kind of ran there, or drove there in my pajamas and started taking some video footage.

COOPER: And these are the images that we're showing our viewers, right now. Clearly, you've probably never seen anything like this. What -- describe what you saw. We're seeing the firefighters, clearly the early stages, trying to battle these flames, which are huge.

TRIGILIO: Yeah. As I was getting closer, I saw people pouring out from all sorts of neightborhoods and stuff like that, and there was just tons of fire trucks, tons of sirens, more then I've ever heard in my life, lots of people all over the place. And it was pretty chaotic.

COOPER: And how long -- how close were you to the impact site?

TRIGILIO: It's only about a minute-and-a-half drive from my house. Rather close, actually.

COOPER: And at the point that you got there, clearly there was first responders already on the scene, there's a firehouse very close to the crash site.


COOPER: How far away is that?

TRIGILIO: Just down the road. That's only going to be about like 20 seconds.

COOPER: What did -- how long did you stay at the scene? And did you see any parts of the aircraft? Because in shots we've seen the tail of the aircraft.

TRIGILIO: Yeah, I saw that on the TV, actually, when I got home. I could not see -- at the time that I got there, all I saw was flames, just a big fireball. I couldn't really see any parts of the plane or anything like that.

COOPER: There's a house on the right side of your images. Is that the house that was hit, or is that a nearby house?

TRIGILIO: That's just a nearby house, I believe. I'm not sure.

COOPER: OK. Yeah, I mean, it appears as if the flame -- I mean, the heat of the flames are to the left of this, I'm assuming that's what it is or a garage that's part of the property. But as far as you could see, only really one house was damaged?

TRIGILIO: Yeah, as far as I could see, yeah.


FOSTER: Well, we're going to be back with Anderson in just a moment., but for now we're going to bring you an update on this story the very latest on this developing story out of the state of New York. A Continental Express plane has crashed into a home in Clarence enter, a suburb of Buffalo.

New York state police say all 48 people onboard Flight 3407, have been killed. One person on the ground was killed, as well. Flight 3407 out of Newark, New Jersey went down just 10 kilometers from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. A dozen homes had to be evacuated nearby. So far there's no word on what caused this crash.

ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, it was -- authorities say that plane crashed on Thursday night in suburban Buffalo, New York was (INAUDIBLE), that was a 50 feet aircraft that went down. They identified it as a Continental Express Flight 3407. It was being operated by Colgan Air of Virginia.

Flight 3407, it was on route from Newark from New Jersey to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, so that's the route it was taking, that was when it crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York, that was shortly after 10:00 Eastern Time, so 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday.

Now possible causes for the crash, they actually haven't been report, as yet, just plenty of speculation about what might have happened, what might have caused that plane to come down on Clarence.

FOSTER: Yeah, we can bring the initial images we had of all of this, because the news came thought just pretty quickly here at CNN. We had various stills that were sent through to us. And these are the first, sort of, sets of video that we had from the scene.

Also, we got pretty -- well, people were managing to get pretty close to the scene, initially. But that cordon around the scene is widening. And we know that the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a Go Team to that area to investigate the crash.

The Erie County Medical Examiner's Office has established a command post at the scene. Huge amounts of investigation to take place because (INAUDIBLE) they haven't been able to go thought the wreckage, even, properly yet, because expect to be on fire.

Jenny Harrison is joining us in the Weather Center, because, Jenny, of course, in these situations, people often do point towards the weather as a possible cause.

JENNY HARRISON, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They do indeed, and in fact, Max, throughout Thursday it was a particularly unpleasant day across the -- much of the eastern United States, all the way from Tennessee up into Michigan and even across into Buffalo, on into much of New York state, because of the very, very strong winds, it was a day of severe wind damage.

Now, the winds, in fact, have not dropped at all in the last few hours, so though considered fairly high, when the plane actually set off from Newark in New Jersey, but then as it headed in towards Buffalo, the winds looking sort of fairly light, about 20 kilometers an hour, which is about 12-13 miles-an-hour.

Now, of course, we do often talk about cross-winds. The visibility was considered fairly poor, with a lot of low clouds. And you can see here, on the radar, in the last few hours, that there was a very wintry mix, pushing across the entire region, which, in fact, has turned to a fairly wet snow in the last couple of hours.

We've been talking, as well, about icing and all the different forms of icing that pilots have to be aware of. And trace icing is one of them. But, in actual fact, it is not considered -- they don't actually consider using deicing or anti-icing equipment unless they have encountered icing for an extended period of time. That is actually considered to be over one hour.

So, when you consider that conditions in Newark, New Jersey, were pretty -- they weren't clear, but they were dry, it was a very cloudy evening when the plane, of course, it was delayed, when the plane finally took off, it was fairly windy in Newark, but it was actually dry. And so, it wasn't until the plane actually came closer to Buffalo that it began to encounter the wind sheet weather conditions.

But again, as we've been hearing in the last few hours from all the experienced pilots who regularly travel and fly into this area, people as well in the region, the weather conditions were not considered at all untoward for this part the United States.

So, you can see, as I say, there has been a lot wind sheet participation in the last few hours. Winds, as I say, though, were considered fairly light at about 20 kilometers-an-hour when the plane actually came into Buffalo -- Max.

FOSTER: Jenny, thank you very much.

CHERTY: Thank you, Jenny. FOSTER: Just to confirm, then. A commuter flight has crashed in New York State near Buffalo. And the information we're getting through is pretty initial, at this point, because investigators are heading towards the scene and there's still, effectively, as fire burning on the crash scene.

CHERTY: That's right, investigations continue, but 49 fatalities on that. It was a 50 seater aircraft, 44 passengers, we've gen told, have been killed, four crew, as well, and also, one fatality on the ground.

Well, we're going to go, right now back to Anderson Cooper for more update information, exactly what happened. So, of course, back to Anderson, now.

COOPER: Thanks very much. Good morning, again, I'm Anderson Cooper in New York with the breaking news coverage. A medium-size commuter plane, down, not far from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in upstate New York.

Now, if you're just joining us, let's quickly run though the facts as we know them, separating the fact from speculation. The Continental Fight -- Continental Connection Flight 3407 was bound for Newark, New Jersey, when down in icy conditions on approach to the airport in Buffalo, crashing into a neighborhood. About seven miles short of Buffalo is runway 23.

Now, it happened about 20 past 10:00 p.m. An eyewitness we talked to said it was 10:17, exactly. The dead include 44 passengers, four crew members, and one person on the ground. Flight 3407 had just been cleared to make an instrument approach, descending to about 2,300 feet to line up with the runway. Visibility, reasonably good, we're told, but icing conditions being reported by other pilots in the area.

Now, we know all this by the -- an actual recordings made between the flight crew, the first officer onboard that flight, the pilot, as well as the air traffic controllers on the ground. We're expecting a news conference about an hour from now. But we have people on the scene and nearby, along with aviation and weather experts we've talked to.

We've also been hearing, tonight, from some of the people directly touched by this tragedy. And importantly, I should point out also, we are awaiting -- and it could be any moment now, the actual recording between the flight crew, the pilot and/or the first officer onboard this plane that went down, and air traffic controllers. We are trying to get that recording turned around. We're going to bring that to you momentarily.

But, one of the -- of course, the headline of tonight is that 49 people have lost their lives in this evening on this cold night just outside of Buffalo, New York. And very slowly, we are starting to hear the identities of the people who are onboard this plane.

One, we've just learned about, the "Buffalo News" is reporting a woman by the name of Beverly Eckert, who is a widow of a 9/11 victim, was onboard this flight that went down. Beverly Eckert, her sister, Sue Borque, according to the "Buffalo News," has been waiting for news about her sister at the airport. And of course, now has learned the terrible news. And Beverly Eckert was the widow of a man named Sean Rooney, who was a Buffalo native who died on September 11 at the World Trade Center.

She was traveling to Buffalo for a weekend celebration of what would have been her husband's 58th birthday.

Also onboard this flight, we are told, is Ellyce Kausner, who's brother, Chris Kausner, was waiting for his sister at the Town Hall. His sister, Ellyce, is going to law school and was on a connecting flight heading home just for the weekend. This is what Chris Kausner had to say earlier, before he leaned for sure of the fate of his sister.


CHRIS KAUSNER, SISTER ON FLIGHT 3407: Originally they said that it had landed and it was taxiing, but that turned out not to be the case.

QUESTION: How did you end up in Town Hall?

KAUSNER: I was driving right through town, because I was on my way home from a soccer game and they announced on the radio that they had set up a command station here, so.

QUESTION: Chris, what has been going through your mind the last minutes?

KAUSNER: Like I said, I really am just thinking about my mother. I -- my parents are on vacation in Florida and I had to call down there and tell then what was going on and I -- I'm just thinking about my mom.

QUESTION: How are they taking it?

KAUSNER: To tell you the truth, I heard my mother make a noise on the phone that I never heard before. So, not good. Not good.

QUESTION: Was it your house? Your parent's house?

KAUSNER: No, my sister was on the plane, as far as we know.

QUESTION: She was due to come in on that flight?

KAUSNER: Yes, my other sister, Laura (ph), was waiting at the airport. I heard on the radio that there had been a crash, so I called immediately to see if the plane had landed at the airport of not and initially she thought that it had, but it turns out that that was not the case.

QUESTION: Was it Continental?

KAUSNER: Yes, she was on a Continental flight coming in from Newark.

QUESTION: Were you able to get close to the scene at all or not?

KAUSNER: No closer than anybody else. I tried, but they told me to come over here and that any information would be coming out of here.

QUESTION: What have you heard?

KAUSNER: Nothing. Nothing, they said that they're gathering information together, right now, the don't really know anything.

QUESTION: What are you thinking? I mean...

KAUSNER: I'm, 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.


COOPER: His mom was in Florida, she is now, of course, having to make the difficult journey back. Ther are families, no doubt, all around the United States, this evening, dozens of families, parents and grandparents and children who are hearing the new, are going to have to make that difficult journey to Buffalo this evening and tomorrow.

We'll, of course, be learning a lot more about the passengers and the flight crew and the person who died on the ground, this evening. But we are just getting in, now, is a portion of that tape from air traffic control of their communications with the flight crew of this doomed flight. What we're -- we don't have the full tape, right now. What we have are the moment after the air traffic controller on the ground have lost radar contact with Flight 3407.

They had been in radar contact with the plane, they had been in communication with the plane and from what John Wiley, who is a contributing editor of "Business Commercial Aviation" magazine, who had heard the entire tape, had said that there was no visible sound of distress on the part of the first officer or the pilot, whomever it was communicating with the air traffic controllers. And there was no indication of any problem with the plane. They did not tell the air traffic controllers that there was some problem with the aircraft. The plane, basically just fell from the sky, as far as air traffic controllers can tell. They had no indication of a problem.

We expect to get the entire portion of the entire tape shortly and we're going to bring that to you. But right now, this is the parts of the tape they have lost, the air traffic controllers have lost contact with Flight 3407. It was vectored in to line up with the instrument approach to runway 23 in Buffalo, but for the moment, this is Buffalo approach trying to reestablish communication with Flight 3407. Let's listen.


AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Colgan 3407 approach.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Colgan 3407, Bullafo.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Colgan 3407 approach.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Delta 1998, look off your right side about five miles, for a Dash-8, should be 2,300 do you see anything there?

FLIGHT 1998: Ah. Negative, Delta 1998, we're just in the bottoms, there's nothing on TCAS

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Colgan 3407, Buffalo?

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Colgan 3407, Buffalo, tower (INAUDIBLE).

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: ...some ground communication, you need to talk to somebody at least five miles NNE, OK, possibly Clarence. That area right in there, Akron area, either State police or Sheriff dept, we need to find out if anything is on the ground. This aircraft was five miles out, all of a sudden we have no response to that aircraft.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: All I can tell you is that we had an aircraft over the marker, and we're not talking to them now

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: (INAUDIBLE) we'll have to get right back to you, sir. Apparently we apparently have an emergency and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: (INAUDIBLE) aircraft this frequency, we did have a Dash-8 over the marker that didn't make the airport, he appears to be about five miles away from the airport. For Delta 1998, I'm going bring you in, sir, on the approach, if you could just give me a (INAUDIBLE) when you get to 2,300, and if you have any problem with the localizer or anything, let me know, however we're showing all in the green, here.


AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Unfortunately, it said he want down about right over the marker (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tower, Texas (ph), 1452's coming up on the (INAUDIBLE), we just saw it now and you guys know what's going on?

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: (INAUDIBLE) 1452, Buffalo tower winds at 26104 23, you are clear to land, yes sir, we are aware



COOPER: So, that the communication from the air traffic controllers. There was another plane in the area, the Delta Flight 1998, that you heard them talking with a little bit and talking about, as well. But again, there is a part of this tape that we're going to be -- as soon as we get it we're going to bring it to you and that's the first time that I have heard that portion of the tape.

But there is another portion of the tape where you actually hear the voice of the, I believe it to be the first officer, perhaps the pilot, of this Continental flight that went down, Flight 3407.

But again, the tape doesn't really get us any closer to understanding exactly what happened onboard this aircraft. It does not seem that there was -- whatever happened, it happened pretty quick, is what it seems like.

Jim Tillman, our retired pilot and aviation analyst, whom we've been talking with throughout this evening, said he thought whatever happened must have happened pretty quickly to bring this plane down out of the sky. John Wiley joins us now, he's a contributing editor to "Business Commercial Aviation" magazine.

John, so, we've now played for our viewers this tape that we got in. We just played -- we just got into portions, so far, of the air traffic controllers' reacting to the fact that they can no longer -- that this flight has dropped off their radar. What do you make of that portion of the tape? What have we learned from that? I mean, essentially they seem as surprised as anybody that this thing just kind of dropped out of the sky.

JOHN WILEY, BUSINESS COMMERCIAL AVIATION MAGAZINE: They go back and they talk to Delta, who was behind this aircraft on the approach, and they asked for a Pi-Rep from him, which is a pilot report. The weather conditions, as the time, were not particularly bad, if you pull the weather up, you'll find out the visibility was about three miles, it was forecast, well it was actually reporting three miles with light snow in the area, temperature of about 33 degrees. So, it's not a particularly daunting instrument approach with the clouds being at about 1,100 feet. They would have been able to pick up the runway three to five miles out.

The turned on to the approach. Again, we talked about this a little bit earlier, when you listen to the voice, which was not played in this tape, the pilot and the -- 3407, there appears to be no stress. Air traffic controllers is not working the airplane as though there is an abnormal or an emergency, which if there had been with the airplane, the crew would have reported it.

COOPER: And is it your sense that whatever happened, happened quickly? I mean, if there was not stress in their voice, and no report of something going wrong, there's only a brief amount of time from the last communications to the time when this plane loses radar contact.

WILEY: Yes, there -- it just appears to have dropped out. Now, in looking at the safety database, this aircraft, the 400 series of this airplane -- the airplane has been around for quite some time. The airplane first shows up on the screen in about 1986. It's a dash 100 model and like many other airplanes, they continued to stretch the airplane as the market demanded larger airplanes and more powerful airplane in the regional carriers.

This aircraft is referred to as a Q-400 and there have been no previous fatalities attributed to Q-400s.

COOPER: This is the deadliest crash, if I'm not mistaken -- this is the deadliest crash in America since a ComAir jet commuter crashed in Lexington, Kentucky, which was back in August 27 of 2006, 49 lives were lost in that, as well.

WILEY: That's correct.

COOPER: Jim Tillman is also joining us, retired pilot, aviation analyst. Jim, you heard that portion of that portion of the tape recording. What do you make of it?

JIM TILLMAN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: (AUDIO GAP) conversation until, of course, the lost radar contact and as I was mentioning earlier to you (INAUDIBLE). Well the air traffic controllers, this is a very uncomfortable moment. He's doing the routine he's done thousands of times, he's watching this blip on radar and he's following it and all of a sudden, it's not there and he cannot reach them by radio. So, he's got to make the assumption that something awful has happened, and he was right.

So, yes, that's the only place you'll find that there's a little bit of stress there, because where is he? Can't see anything from there, he's sitting in a dark room someplace. And later on, on the tapes that we haven't heard, there was some kind of report about the buildup of rime ice. And I can tell you, for those of you that don't know what rime ice is, the ice that occurs in your freezer compartment , that kind of crusty ice that sits on the outside of the coils, that's rime ice.Clear ice is what's in the ice cubes.

So, there rime ice, being rough like that, creates a burbling and creates some disturbance on the lift devices, on the wings or whatever else, of an airplane, and that, of course, can disturb your ability to fly, and actually, you can literally stall that way, if you're not able to clear it early enough and significantly enough.

And I have seen rime ice build up on the wings and the fuselage on airplanes, very quickly. It's almost like you're flying to a rime ice shower and very, very dramatically and quickly it can build up. And if you're close to the ground and your aircraft is not configured to handle that it can be devastating.

COOPER: Just for clarity's sake, Jim, that report of rime ice was from another plane that was in the area, correct?

TILLMAN: I understand that it was. I got the impression that, and of course, you know, I'm just going on what I heard, so I don't know the altitudes or anything else of that aircraft or where it was positioned. But when I heard the word "rime ice," it kind of perked me up quite quickly because from personal experience I know that that can be a very serious situation on the rapid buildup.

COOPER: Let me bring in John. I know you've heard that we haven't played that portion of the tape yet, because we haven't gotten it ready for air, yet. But, I know you've heard that. It's your understanding that it was another plane that said that they were experiencing rime ice or they knew there was rime ice around that elevation?

I think we lost John Wiley. We'll try to get him back. But that is my understanding of this situation, because Jim, as you know, the Flight 3407 gave no indication of any real problem, according to this tape.

OK, I'm told that John Wiley is back.

John, as far as you understand, that rime ice report was from another aircraft that the flight controllers were talking to?

WILEY: There was an aircraft that had departed after the crash and...

COOPER: Is that the Delta 1998?

WILEY: No sir, another airplane that was departing the Buffalo area and he asked for an unrestricted climb to 8,000 feet because of the icing in the area. So, apparently somebody else had reported that they were picking up the rime icing at a lower altitude.

Later on, the controller asked a couple of other airplanes if they too were picking up icing and they reply in the affirmative, yes they are picking up icing. So, that's one of the factors that they will certainly be looking at.

COOPER: Gentlemen, John and Jim, what we're seeing right now is actually a live picture. These are the most updated picture we have and we're seeing it for the first time as our viewers are. As you can tell, the fire is largely under control, as we were told, though, an hour or so ago, that they were. But, this is really the first time that we're seeing no flames, just the smoke rising. Firefighters still, obviously, on the scene, still, the area secure. Twelve homes have been evacuated in this area.

You can see what appears to be some snow on one of those houses. Clearly, it's a very -- it is a cold night up there, outside Buffalo and it's a different view, a different vantage point of this scene that we have seen before. I'm not sure where the tail section of the plane is in that picture. That's one of the images we've gotten use to seeing, sadly, in the last two or three or four hours that we've been covering this, that eerie tail section sticking up, intact, from the burning wreckage of the home.

The home, all but flattened, we are told. It's at 6038 Long Street in Clarence Center. There have been some conflicting reports of the exact address, early on, but 6038 Lost Street is what the local congressman, Congressman Lee, had confirmed to me earlier and rescue personnel, as well. So, two confirmations, also from Chris Collins, the Erie County executive, 6038 Long Street is the address of that.

And we've actually received some photographs of the house looked like before the crash. We're just trying to confirm the validity of those photographs. We don't want to show you the wrong house or anything, so we're not going to show you those as this point.

And again, we are waiting, right now, for a press conference that's going to take place in about 30 minutes. We hope to get more information, there. There may be some representatives for the NTSB at the press conference. No doubt, other local officials will be there.

A lot -- clearly a lot to talk about -- a lot of information. They're probably not going to be able to give us much information, eve as we've been able to give at this point. These flight transcripts, these -- this recording, was being monitored by fold, really, around the country and around the world who are aviation enthusiasts who monitor it on a Web site and they are able to go back and check the archive.

Bob Dworak (ph) in another eyewitness, as we talked to several, tonight, let's talk to him and his perspective.

Bob, where were you? What did you hear an see?

BOB DWORAK, LIVES NEAR THE CRASH SITE: I was home watching TV, we heard an airplane go over, it sounded kind of low. Then we heard a loud noise and kind of one big bag and our house shook. We opened up the back door to see what -- you know, see if we could see anything, and could smell a lot of smoke and then we heard the fire sirens go off.

We looked out the front door and you could see an orange glow, just over the house down the street a little bit, so we drove over, parked our car about a block from the fire and then went over and just saw just a huge, huge wall of flames coming up maybe 50 to 100 feet. And it looked just like pile of rubble where the house had been.

The house looked like it had been completely flattened and there was just huge flames going up.

COOPER: How big, I assume, you know the house. How -- it's 6038 Long Street, how big a house is it? Was it?

DWORAK: It was -- I think it was like a two-story kind of cape house, I was fairly, you know, a decent sized house. The houses in Clarence Center are all fairly close together in that area, so they're may be maybe 30 to 50 feet apart and it was just amazing that it was such a huge fire, but it was just in one specific house that had gotten hit

COOPER: And, when you heard the sound. We talked to a number of eyewitnesses who've said that the sound they heard in the sly was unusual, that it was different, that people -- that this was close to the airport, people use to hearing planes in the sky, the planes' engines, but this sounded odd to them.

DWORAK: Yeah, this sounded -- we're actually right on the approach to Buffalo, so that the planes go over the house all the time. But this one, it kind of sputtered and it sounded a lot louder, like it was a lot lower than they normally are. They're usually about 3,000 feet above us when they go over. This one sounded lower and then it was like sputtering and then we just heard, just heard the loud, a loud bang and the house shook.

COOPER: A sputtering sound?


COOPER: Did you instantly know what it was and was when you heard the bang?

DWORAK: Really weren't sure exactly what it was. I mean, we had heard the airplane go over and then the loud thud. And then we went out there, people were saying it was an airplane, but we couldn't see any signs of an airplane. We just saw a giant pile of rubble burning. Later I had seen the video showing the tail of the airplane. From the look of the video that must have been on the opposite side of the fire from where we were standing.

But people were saying it was an airplane. But just judging by the size and the height of the flames, it looked like there had to be something that hit it with a lot of fuel in it, or something.

COOPER: And how long did you stay there?

DWORAK: We were probably there -we got there, probably within five minutes of the crash, and we were there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes. And more and more emergency vehicles were coming in and then people were trying to disperse, because there were more and more fire trucks coming in and they were trying to get into the scene.

COOPER: Sure, understandable. Bob, we appreciate you talking to us, letting us know what you saw. Again, in a situation like this, really just trying to collate as much information as we can at once.

And as we said and cautioned repeatedly, often the early information is contradictory, it's incorrect. We've been trying to be very careful about what we have been reporting and what we haven't been reporting. There is a lot of information that we've been getting that we hold off on talking about until we can actually confirm it with a second or third source.

Still on the phone with us, John Wiley, contributing editor of "Business Commercial Aviation" magazine, who was really the first person to actually alert me via e-mail to the existence of this tape and to the contents of it. Jim Tilmon, a retired pilot and aviation analyst, is also with us.

And, gentleman, if we could, I just want to play again, this tape that we have from air traffic controllers responding to the fact that, just now, the plane has dropped off their radar. This is shortly - the plane crashes at 10:17, this is very shortly before that. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, Buffalo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, now approaching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delta 1998, look off your right side about five miles, for a Dash 8. It should be 23 hundred, you see anything there?

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, Buffalo.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Handler (ph), there's 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 or 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: Buffalo, I'll get right back to you, sir, but apparently we have an emergency, and I'll get back to you 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. Uh, it appears to be about five miles away from the airport. Delta 1998 I'm going to bring you in, sir, on the approach. If you could just give me a power up (ph), when you get the 2300, and if you have any problem with the localizer or anything, you let me know however, we're showing it all in the green here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus, did you find Colgan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh, unfortunately they said he went down about, right over the marker Klump (ph).

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1452, Buffalo Tower, local tower, went 2614, went right 2300 to clear land. Yes, sir, we are aware.


(END AUDIO CLIP) COOPER: Again, that tape just starting moments after the aircraft has lost radar contact, the air traffic controllers have lost radar contact with Flight 3407, which crashed at around 10:17, according to eyewitnesses on the ground; and this ball of fire as they were subsequent explosions as well. At least subsequent explosion, as one witness has reported telling us about. We showed you, these pictures are from earlier, of course, the flames seem to be extinguished at this point. The fire is brought under control, but the scene is basically being cordoned off. This is the most recent image we have. We got this just about four or five minutes ago. Still, obviously a lot of smoke, a lot of debris. But this is essentially a scene that will be -that is already roped off, and will be undisturbed as NTSB investigators arrive and take over this operation.

Jim, I mean, do they - the people who have died on the scene, do they leave them there until investigators have cleared the area?

JIM TILMON, FORMER PILOT: As you mentioned earlier on, it is as if this is a crime scene. And nothing gets altered during this part of the situation, until the investigators are on the scene. The people who look at the criminal side of this, the FBI types, have made a decision that this is something that is not for the criminal investigation but they turn it over to the people who do this in NTSB. And they will make a determination as to when anything there can be disturbed, including the bodies.

Incidentally, Anderson -

COOPER: Go ahead.

TILMON: I just wanted to roll a couple of things by you. Because there are a couple of things on that tape that did, when I heard it this time, did stick out a little bit. Sounds like the air traffic controller had the aircraft in question at about 2300 feet, pretty close to the outer marker, on approach. That was the last radar contact that they had with the airplane. And when he talked with Delta, he asked Delta if he saw anything there. And not only did Delta not see anything visually, but he mentioned T-CAF(ph). You're familiar with that Anderson, I don't know whether the viewers are or not, but that is an onboard radar device that the airliners all have now, so that they can see the presence of another airplane, in the air, on that radar. And, of course, Delta did not anything on T-CAF (ph).

Then the other thing that came out on that tape was the airplane that was climbing up, you'll notice that the controllers said to that airplane, tell me what's going on at 2300 feet. That was that pilot report he was asking for. Because 2300 feet would be the altitude they last had on the questioned aircraft. And that is when he got the report he did. So, just to clear up a couple of things that came off that tape.

COOPER: John, I'm just amazed at the speed with which this much -whatever happened, must have happened. I mean, if they had contact with this aircraft and by the tone of their voice nothing seemed unusual. By the content of what they said, there was nothing wrong with the plane. Then all of a sudden it just disappears. I mean, this - it happened very quick.

TILMON: Well, when you're 2300 feet, that's not much altitude between you and the ground. You're traveling maybe 140, 150 knots, it is not going to take a whole lot of time to eat up that small space.

COOPER: We just received a statement from Continental Airlines, and I want to read it to you. It says they "offer their support to Colgan Air in providing assistance to families of Flight 3407, passengers and crew. Continental Airlines, this morning, expressed "its profound sadness concerning the accident involving Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air. Continental extends its deepest sympathy to the family members and loved ones of those involved in this accident."

That a statement by Larry Kellner, who is the chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. He went on to say, "We are providing our full assistance to Colgan Air so that together we can provide as much support as possible for all concerned." They say that "Continental representatives are traveling to Buffalo to provide assistance to Colgan in its response. A family assistance center is being established in the area."

The CEO went on to say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with all the family members and loved ones of those involved in flight 3407 tragedy."

And again, they put out a number to contact the airline for family members. Again, this is only for family members, loved ones of the passenger and crew onboard this plane: 1-800-621-3263.

And as I said before, we are awaiting this press conference now, in about 20 minutes, where we're hoping to get some new information. But perhaps the -you know, the most new information we're going to be getting over the next several hours, and days, are really the identities of the people onboard this aircraft. Obviously, until their loved ones are contacted, we wouldn't be giving out any information about their identity. But two people have spoken to reporters at this point. We played you, Chris Kausner, who was waiting for his sister, Ellyce, who was onboard that aircraft.

At the time that Chris Kausner spoke to local reporters up in Buffalo, he had not heard for sure, gotten final confirmation that there were not survivors aboard this plane. But he certainly knew, all indications were not good, as all of us did at that point. And Chris Kausner related giving his mom a call. Telling his mom what had happened. His mom is down in Florida. And a reporter asked the question, how did she respond? And he said that his mom made a noise that he had never heard before.

We've also, I understand, a wire just crossed from a local paper, up in Buffalo, talked to a woman who is waiting for her sister. Her sister was onboard that flight. And her sister had actually lost her own husband, a woman named Beverly Eckert, was on board that flight, according to her sister, Sue Bourque, as quoted to "The Buffalo News". Beverly Eckert, who was onboard that flight, was a widow of a 9/11 victim. A widow of a man who, a Buffalo native, who lost his life on September 11. And Beverly Eckert was actually traveling to Buffalo to celebrate what would have been her husband's 58th birthday. Her husband who died on 9/11.

So many tragedies, so many individual stories that we're just finding out about at this late hour, 3:40 a.m., on Friday morning. This is certainly now how anyone anticipated the week ending. A week that really began with so much positive coverage of the Miracle on the Hudson, that US Air flight that both engines died and the captain, Sullenberger, was able to land it with great courage in the Hudson River.

That is how this week began, with so much coverage of that story and now it ends with this.

Berkeley Brean is a reporter with WHEC. We've been talking to him throughout the night. He's been kind enough to let us know what's happening at the response center.

Berkeley, where are you right now?

BERKELEY BREAN, REPORTER, WHEC NEWS: Anderson, I'm in what has become the media center and we are all set up waiting for the press conference to start. It should start in about 20 minutes, right at 4 o'clock. And we expect the FBI to be here, the Erie County Sheriff's office, and people from local emergency response. So, we're just anticipating them coming in and kind of giving us the very latest on what they know.

COOPER: Berkeley, I should point out, is with WHEC, which is Channel 10 in Rochester.

Berkeley, what has the scene been like throughout this evening, where you are? I mean, we saw that press conference about, I guess it was about, two or three hours ago. It was certainly chaotic to say the least. It is just got to be quite a scene over there.

BREAN: Well, it is actually -Anderson it has calmed down a little bit here. And the fact is that the very scene, the crash site, is completely quarantined. And so there is virtually no access to it. But earlier on, when firefighters were leaving that scene, just the smell of smoke was on their uniforms, it was just acrid. It just -it just, it was a reminder of how intense this fire was. People could describe the scene, the glow of the fire from miles away, and the plume of smoke even higher than that. So, there was - you know, you got the sense that this was just a horrific crash. But right now, it is just an area that you just can't get to unless you are part of the emergency response, or unless you are part of the FAA, which is on its way.

COOPER: Well, thank goodness for that. That they have the area secure and roped off, because as Jim Tilmon and John Wiley, our aviation experts have been telling us, this is essentially going to be treated as a crime scene. Every square inch of this searched, catalogued to try to figure out exactly what occurred.

So, Berkeley, you are anticipating this press conference about 15 minutes from now?

BREAN: Yes, and more and more media are showing up and just waiting for all the parties to arrive. Like I said, the FBI will be here, the Erie County Sheriff's office, the head of emergency management for the town of Clarence, which is where we are, and the local major of the state police.

Not sure how much information they're going to be able to give. But, you know, we're anticipating them at least probably talking about that tape, from air traffic control.

One of the things that I could mention is that Clarence is -where the plane crashed, as far as I know, it's not - I wouldn't describe it as rural, but it is not densely populated. And you can only imagine that if this plane had made it even further, closer to Buffalo, where the population is just greater, God knows what would have happened then. Where this plane crashed, was this one house, but it is very sparsely populated with people and homes.


BREAN: That's not to minimize what happened here, but if it had gotten any closer to Buffalo, it just probably would have been that much worse.

COOPER: Berkeley Brean, with WHEC, Channel 10 in Rochester.

Berkeley, again, we appreciate you talking with us throughout this evening.

We're going to not only this press conference, we're anticipating, but we're also anticipating getting more of the recordings between the flight crew and air traffic controllers. We've already heard an account of it from John Wiley, who first alerted us, alerted me to the existence of this tape several hours ago.

But it is important. We're learning information about the fact that there was apparently no stress in the voices of the cockpit crew, in terms of their communication with air traffic controllers. And more importantly, even that, no information passed about any problem with this aircraft. So, whatever occurred on this plane occurred very quickly.

And as John pointed out, John Wiley, there are about 2300 feet, and that was the last known altitude that they had contact at and from there it is very quick.

Rob Marciano is standing by with just - give a sense of what the weather conditions were in the area at the time.

Rob, what are you learning?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, pretty much what you guys have been saying, obviously, the weather conditions there were not good. Wintry weather, weather that went from rain to snow, and the higher winds. Winds gusting, at the time, about 20 minutes before this crash, at the Buffalo airport, were gusting as high as 25 miles an hour. And with snow coming down as well.

You are talking about the rime ice, potentially built up, that you have heard reports of other pilots saying that. Fog, that will actually freeze to surfaces, and then on top of that, a fair amount of snowfall.

And this is the latest radar. Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, we often talk about lake effect snow. This time of year, Lake Erie, which is this lake, is the most shallow lake. It will typically freeze over, not entirely, but certainly will freeze to the point where it reduces the amount of lake effect. But nonetheless, with a little bit of enhancement there, the snow will be coming to an end over the next couple of hours. That will certainly will help in what they are doing on the ground there, Anderson.

But with temperatures right around the freezing mark, rime ice certainly will form quickly in the foggy and snowy conditions that they had. The ceiling heights were about 1100 feet. And from what I can tell, from the weather balloons that were launched a few hours before this crash, the cloud heights were 15,000. So, about 14,000 feet, of zero visibility, where this plane was flying through nothing but clouds.

And from what I'm hearing they lost contact with this aircraft somewhere in the 2,000 foot range, or so. So that would be before this aircraft would be below the ceiling heights, where it would be able to actually see the runway. It was on instrument approach, of course, with this low visibility of three miles. Now, three-mile visibility, Anderson, that would be at the surface, above 1100 feet, visibility would pretty much be zero, with them being in the clouds. So, can't say for sure what happened here, but obviously, weather was not helping by any means.

COOPER: Rob Marciano, reporting. Rob, thanks. No doubt, checking in with you for the next couple of hours.

Again, we still have on the phone Jim Tilmon, retired pilot, aviation analyst. And John Wiley, contributing editor at "Business Commercial Aviation" magazine.

John, you've heard the tape. We've been talking about this now for an hour or so. In terms of, you know, you just heard the weather report from Rob Marciano. Do you think weather played a role in this? Or with something that happened this quickly, what -there are other explanations?

JOHN WILEY, EDITOR, "BUSINESS COMMERCIAL AVIATION": All accidents are an accumulation of various factors. You can't discount the environment. In the past when we've looked at these, we have always tried to look at a three-part scenario. Man, machine, environment, so we will be looking at the crew, we will be looking at the Q400, and we'll also be looking at the weather. All of those are contributing factors.



COOPER: Sorry, go ahead.

WILEY: ...we refer to them as threats. And anytime you have winds, of which are primarily down the runway, so that would not be a significant threat, but you also do have the icing, you do have the low visibility of three miles or so. So, they are conducting several (ph) approaches.

COOPER: And Jim, I think it was you, you were telling me about the Q400, the Bombardier aircraft, this thing is built in Canada. I mean, it is used to these kind of elements?

TILMON: Well, I can tell you for a fact that this is a pretty good ice wagon. And all I've been able to tell, talking with pilots that have flown it. So, I don't see it as being an airplane that is going to be flying in these conditions and that it is a dangerous situation because it is there.

Now, how is the airplane configured is something that could add to some of this investigation. And you know, how much of the deicing or anti-icing approach was being taken from the crew, and when it was turned on? And lots of other things. These are questions, Anderson, that they are going to answer over the next few weeks and months as they sift through all the data that they get from that data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

And they'll be able to piece together, second by second, exactly what they can find that happened.

COOPER: Jim, though, in your experience with rime icing, I mean, you can, obviously planes are deiced before they take off, but with this rime icing, it doesn't matter if you have been deiced before you take off, does it?

TILMON: No, not a heck of a lot. You know, we'd like to think that it does but really doesn't make that much difference. The deicing that is done prior to take off of commercial aircraft is to make sure during the take off sequence, you don't have a problem of ice, just during the take off itself. But once you get in an altitude and you are flying along, I mean, that is not going to be a tremendous aide to you. It does help some, but not a lot.

But I can tell you, as a pilot who has flown into rime ice before, it very, very insidious. It's just like right now. And it can be a real problem for maintaining altitude and maintaining control of the airplane.

COOPER: How do you know when you have flown into rime ice. I mean, do you actually feel it? Do you see it?

TILMON: Well, actually, on this airplane, I think - I haven't flown in the cockpit of this airplane, but I would doubt seriously they see the wings, that leading edges of the wings. And there is no indication that I know of, in the cockpit, that says we're getting ice, rime ice at this time.

Usually this is something that is taken care of as a precaution. You know the conditions that will create this. You have set up your airplane so that you can eliminate the possibility of going into a problem, because of the icing conditions.

So, you turn on the kinds of heat, because a hot wing, or the use of boos, if it is a boot airplane, whatever. Whatever devices you have for your particular aircraft, you began to exercise that, to make sure that as you fly through these conditions you are going to be in good shape. I tell you, I'm impressed with this airplane. I'm not questioning the airplane, quite yet.

John Wiley, if rime ice was an issue, is that something that the crew would have talked to air traffic controllers about?

WILEY: It would have been probably discussed, but because you are supposed to report inclement conditions, but on the aircraft that I've flown, the Boeings, the McDonald Douglases, the various air bush, etcetera. Even the business jets. If you are in rime icing conditions, it will accrete on any surface presents a point of sticking out. For example, if you had windshield wipers on the airplane. You would be able to see the ice building up fairly quickly. And any time you get into ice, regardless of what type of airplane you are flying, anything from a Cessna 150, all the way up to 747, it gets your attention.

COOPER: And, Jim, the -at this point, from this press conference, we're' anticipating a press conference, just for our viewers, at about 8 minutes from now. I just want to show you the scene. A lot of media folks, obviously, have already set up cameras awaiting this press conference. Maybe some folks from the NTSB there. We're not sure exactly about that. But a lot of local officials will be there, trying to get an update of what we know.

I just want to show you the last of the live shot, the last picture we had of the actual scene of the crash. It is a very different scene than the one we have been watching throughout this evening. Smoke still billowing into the night sky, from this vantage point, you cannot see as far as from the vantage point. I see it. You can not see the tail of the aircraft, which is - we've been looking at this scene, this crash site, from a different angle, and you can actually see the tail, earlier, but this the scene, pretty much what it looks like at this hour, very shortly before 4 a.m. in the morning.

And as first light appears in this area, the true horror of what has here is going to be taking shape. 49 people have lost their lives. One person in the house that it was crashed into. A house which is 6038 Long Street. In this neighborhood, 12 other homes have been evacuated and remain evacuated this hour. But a lot of neighbors, who heard this plane, heard something wrong with this plane, heard the crash that we have heard from about three our four different people, who told us they were blocks away, and yet the sound, the impact of the crash literally shook their own homes and they went to the site and stayed for a short time, before they left. When they decided that they needed to get out of the way, so more first responders could room and get to the site.

First responders getting there very quickly, we are told. There was a fire house very close by to the crash site. One of the small things, apparently, I guess, to be thankful for in all of this, that first responders were able to get their and try to battle these flames. Huge flames, 40 to 50 feet high, at one point, early on, one eye witness also telling us there was a secondary explosion, that she saw when she arrived on the scene. After that, a secondary explosion occurred. A couple of people, neighbors, who decided alright, it is time to go back home and do what we can from there.

But at this point there is still so much we do not know about what went on in this aircraft. And we anticipate, as American Morning, begins in just a few minutes. We anticipate getting even more of this recording between air traffic controllers and the flight crews. John Roberts has actually heard the entire portion of this tape, and he's actually joining us now.

John, you've heard, the section that we have heard is basically, just the part where they've lost contact with the aircraft. But you've actually heard the section before that.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: I listened to about the preceding five of six minutes, which is when the aircraft comes into the control area, into descent for landing. And it was absolutely, totally normal approach.

You hear the approach control say descend through 6,000 feet. The first officer of the aircraft acknowledges and says descending through 6,000 and a couple of minutes later, they are told to descend through 4,000 feet. They do that, again, completely normal. They are told then to maintain flight level 2300, which is 2,300 feet. And perfectly normal communication back and forth, no stress in the voices on either side.

The air traffic controller, the approach controller is handling a lot of traffic, besides Colgan 3407, and then just as approach control hands the communication of the aircraft over to the tower, you hear one last acknowledgment, Colgan 3407, and then that's it. And then there's nothing between the air traffic control, approach control, or the tower and Colgan Air, for about 30 seconds and then you hear, both the tower and approach control try to contact the aircraft repeatedly. Obviously, it has dropped off the radar at that point. They then ask another aircraft, which is in the vicinity, take a look out your window at 2300, do you see anything there. The pilot reports back no, don't see anything. And then a few seconds after that they contact another pilot and then they contact, as well, the authorities to suggest that somebody on the ground, in that area, northeast of the airport, around Clarence Center, needs to take a look to see if there's anything on the ground.

But there is absolutely, the part that I listened to, absolutely no indication of an impending disaster here. Everything is completely calm. The only indication is that the very last communication, from what we believe is the first officer, back to the tower, is the communication is fairly short. She says, Colgan 3407, like that. Very quickly. And I don't know if that is an indication that something was -you know, that there was an incident that was beginning to develop at that point. But no communication after the point in which the approach control hands over the aircraft to the tower.

COOPER: And we are awaiting, with Kiran Chetry and John Roberts, the start of this press conference, which should be taking place in about two minutes from now. This, the scene, people just setting up their microphones. A lot of reporters have already arrived. More have been arriving over the last several hours. It was a chaotic scene earlier, as you saw, in the press conference that took place, probably about two and a half to three hours ago. There wasn't a lot of information, but at this point there, well the worst possible information is known, no survivors, 49 people dead. This is the worst crash in the United States since 2006, when 49 people were also killed in a flight, in Kentucky.

And you can really hear, Kiran, in the portion of the tape that we have played, the concern in the air traffic controllers. The fact that they cannot reach this plane.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Right and the other thing that people are going to be wondering about is did weather play a factor. And we know that we had some bad weather yesterday. We know that Buffalo is an area that is used to getting snow, ice, wind, and still being able to land and operate normally in terms of their airport. Which they say flights before and after were operating normally and OK. So, still a lot of questions as to exactly what may have caused this to happen. And again, we're expecting in about a minute now to hear from Erie County executive. Erie County is the county that houses Buffalo, where this happened. The County Executive Chris Collins is going to be speaking, as well as police officials. We are also going to be hearing from public information officer for the organization that runs the actual airport, the Buffalo Niagara Airport.

Anderson, thank you so much for all of your coverage throughout the late evening, into the early morning hours.