A commuter plane plunged into a house in New York state, unleashing a fireball that killed all 49 passengers and crew and one person on the ground, officials said yesterday.
Flames higher than nearby houses lit up the night sky for hours.
The Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 plane came down about five minutes before it was due to land in Buffalo after a flight from Newark, New Jersey.
An Erie County official said Continental Airlines flight 3407 crashed at 10:20pm in Clarence Center, New York, just before reaching the runway.
Air traffic controllers desperately tried to make contact with the pilot as the plane, run by Colgan Air for Continental, approached Buffalo.
One controller asked another plane to look for it, according to a conversation aired by local television station WGRZ. He then asked someone to contact police.
“This aircraft was 5 miles [8km] out and now all of the sudden we have no response from this aircraft,” he said.
County Emergency Coordinator David Bissonette told reporters the plane made a “direct hit” on the house.
“The fuselage of the plane lies directly on the footprint of the house,” Bissonette said. “It basically dove right into the top of the house.”
“It’s remarkable that it only took one house, as devastating as that was. It could have easily wiped out that entire neighborhood in a streaking run type of thing,” he said.
Nearby homes suffered only minimal damage.
Bissonette said the only recognizable part of the plane remaining was the tail.
Erie County Executive Chris Collins told CNN television the plane was carrying 2.6 tonnes of jet fuel and turned into a fireball on impact.
The smoldering wreckage was too hot for investigators to approach and FBI agent Laurie Bennett said evidence could not be collected until the scene was deemed safe, which could be several hours.
The Buffalo News reported that one of the victims was Beverly Eckert, whose husband was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Eckert was traveling to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband, Sean Rooney’s, 58th birthday.
“We know she was on that plane,” her sister Sue Bourque told the paper, “and now she’s with him.”
One witness, who gave his name only as Tony, told a local television station that the plane flew right over his car, “nose down.”
“Left wing was slightly down, pitched sideways, if you will,” he said. “It was on a direct line down.”