Recovery of bodies from plane crash to take days

February 15th, 2009 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Feb 15 (DPA) As families mourned victims of the commercial airliner crash in New York state that killed 50 people, officials have warned that it would take at least four days to recover the bodies.

Continental Express flight 3407 from Newark, New Jersey, burst into flames after crashing into a house outside Buffalo, New York, Thursday night. The victims included all 49 passengers and crew as well as one person in the house, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.

The crash took place at 10.17 p.m. (0317 GMT Friday) in the village of Clarence Centre, about 10 km from Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The fire was so intense that investigators were unable to approach the crash site Friday. The water used to put out the flames turned into ice and was hampering the investigation and recovery of bodies, the NTSB said Saturday.

“This is not like a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) show on TV, where we can solve everything in one hour,” the NTSB’s Steve Chealander said Saturday, adding that 150 people were working at the crash site and torpedo-type heaters were being used to melt the ice.

He described the process as an “excavation” because parts of the plane and the house were “inter-mingled” - some plane parts had fallen as deep as the basement - and this was also slowing down investigations.

While witnesses claimed they saw the plane nose-diving, Chealander said an initial probe of the site disputed this. “All four corners of the plane - the cockpit, tail, both wings and engines - were oriented flat. It would appear that the plane did not nosedive, but fell flat on the house,” he said.

Severe icy conditions were reported at the time of the crash. The crew reported a “significant” build-up of ice on the plane’s windshield and wings just minutes before the pilot lost control, according to initial analysis of the cockpit voice recorder recovered at the scene, Chealander said Friday.

The plane destroyed the house in the village of Clarence Centre that it slammed into, killing Doug Wielinski, but his wife Karen and daughter Jill survived.

In an interview to Buffalo radio station WBEN, Karen said she was watching TV when she heard a plane making an unusually loud noise. “I thought to myself, if that’s a plane, it’s going to hit something. And next thing I knew the ceiling was on me,” she said.

“I just didn’t think I was going to get out of there. I thought, ‘This is it’, and panic set in,” Wielinski said.

She managed to crawl out of a hole and find her daughter, but they realised that the plane “came down on the middle of the house, and unfortunately that’s where Doug was”.

Beverly Eckert, 54, who lost her husband in the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, also died. Eckert was travelling to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband’s 58th birthday and to launch a scholarship fund in his name.

Eckert was co-chairwoman of Voices of September 11, a group pushing for a formal commission to investigate intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks.

Also on board was Alison Des Forges, historian, writer, human rights advocate and expert on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She had been a senior advisor to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Africa division for more than two decades.

Des Forges was born in Schenectady, New York, in 1942 and dedicated her life to understanding Rwanda and documenting and exposing the serial abuses there, HRW said in a statement. She was best known for her award-winning account of the genocide, “Leave None to Tell The Story”, and appeared as an expert witness in the genocide trials.

“She never forgot about the crimes committed by the Rwandan government’s forces, and that was unpopular, especially in the United States and in Britain,” said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth.

“She was really a thorn in everyone’s side, and that’s a testament to her integrity and sense of principle and commitment to the truth.”

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