ATC Tapes Reveal Little About Crash

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Air traffic control tapes indicate a Continental Express enroute from Newark to Buffalo crashed without warning Thursday night in Clarence Center, New York, near Buffalo. Only normal transmissions between the flight crew and controllers are heard before controllers and other crews realize something went wrong. The last call from the flight, operated by Colgan Airlines, was a handoff to the tower frequency as it passed the outer marker. Authorities reported early Friday morning that 48 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft--a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400--were killed and one person on the ground also died. Weather at the time was light snow, fog and mist, but it's not known if that was a factor in the crash.

The crash ignited a large fire in the Clarence Center neighborhood, which underlies the approach path for runway 23 at Buffalo. The crash occurred near the outer marker for the ILS. At least 12 homes were evacuated and an undetermined number burned. One witness, Sandra Baker, told the New York Times that "there was this banging sound" before the crash, followed by a loud boom, a dark cloud and flames. Just after the crash, controllers began querying other flights about icing conditions and at least two reported encountering rime, one between 3,500 and 6,500 feet. The Q400 has had somewhat of a mixed history. In 2007, Sweden's SAS removed the aircraft from its fleet following a series of landing gear malfunctions that resulted in three gear collapse incidents. A Lufthansa Regional Q400 suffered a nosegear collapse at Munich in 2007. The NTSB had a team enroute to the Buffalo crash site early Friday morning. More details are expected later today.

Listen to the audio at the London Times Online.