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Crash families' voices heard in Washington

   WASHINGTON -- The story of Continental Connection Flight 3407 is slowly being transformed from tragedy into history.

   Both the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress are taking actions that boost airline safety in wake of the Feb. 12 accident in Clarence, which claimed 50 lives.

   It isn't always this way when a plane goes down. About a half-dozen similar regional airline crashes have occurred in the last 15 years, and aviation industry observers said only one -- a 1994 American Eagle crash in Roselawn, Ind. -- drew about as much governmental attention as the Clarence crash.

   And much of the credit for that fact goes to the families of the crash's victims, said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a lead sponsor of a bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill that a key committee passed on Tuesday with several strong safety provisions stemming from the February mishap.

   "I appreciate them being a voice for passengers and passenger safety in this country," DeMint said.

   Think about that the next time you hear someone say that the government is out of touch or that citizens don't have a voice.

   It's enough to make you wonder if the only reason we often don't seem to have a voice is because we just don't bother to say anything.

   -- Jerry Zremski

New oversight on pilots: fast as a Babbitt?

WASHINGTON — Here's big news: the government is actually doing something
quickly for once.

Less than two weeks after announcing that it will develop new rules governing how much and when pilots can fly, the FAA said it will set up a committee to develop those rules by July 15, with recommendations to be drawn up by Sept. 1.

Also by July 15, FAA inspectors will review airline procedures for identifying and tracking pilots who fail test flights or demonstrate a repeated need for additional training.

Lawmakers and friends and family of the victims of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed in Clarence on Feb. 12, said they were thrilled that the FAA is taking quick action.

It's an amazing thing, really, for an agency with a reputation for foot-dragging.

And it leaves you wondering: Is it all because of Flight 3407? Or how much does it have to do with the appointment of Randy Babbitt, a former pilots union executive, to head the FAA?

— Jerry Zremski

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Co-pilot's red-eye flight preceded disaster

      WASHINGTON — If you think your commute is a bad one, think, for a moment, about the late Rebecca Lynn Shaw.

   Earning less than $25,000 a year at Colgan Air, the young co-pilot of the doomed Continental Connection Flight 3407 chose to live with her parents in Seattle — and commute to Newark, N.J.

   She did just that — on a red-eye flight, no less — the night before Flight 3407 plunged into a house in Clarence on Feb. 12, killing 50.

   You will not be surprised to hear that her attention span was not stellar on that fateful night. In fact, she seemed not to have noticed as the plane slowed to a stall over eastern Erie County.

   All of which raises a question or two.

   The next time you fly, how would you feel about hearing that the co-pilot had just flown in on the red-eye from Seattle the night before?

   And — my God — should this be legal?

   — Jerry Zremski

Final minutes -- not the final chapter


   WASHINGTON —There was plenty of drama in the National Transportation Safety Board auditorium Tuesday, but even more in a document that most of the people inside that room didn't see until later.

   Taking evidence in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, the safety board only rarely mentioned the drama in the transcript of the fatal flight's final minutes.

   Here's a sample of what the pilot and co-pilot had to say:

   Talking about the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 — the plane he was flying —Capt. Marvin Renslow said: "You know what? Yeah, I tell you I'm getting a lot more used to it. Uh, I'm not saying I like it any better but I am getting used to it."

   And talking about flying in icing conditions, co-pilot Rebecca Lynn Shaw said: "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never seen any. I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I'd've freaked out. I'd have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash."

   Renslow and Shaw also exchanged inappropriate banter after the plane descended below 10,000 feet, which is contrary to federal regulations.

   By the end of the day, the transcript and the testimony seemed to lay the blame for the crash on Renslow and Shaw.

   But wait. There are two more days of hearings still to come.

   And as one observer said after today's hearing: "It can't all be the crew's fault, can it?"

   -- Jerry Zremski

Unraveling the mysteries of Flight 3407

WASHINGTON -- Three months  to the day that Continental Connection Flight 3407 came tumbling down on a house in Clarence, the mysteries surrounding the doomed flight will start to be unraveled.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday will begin three days of hearings aimed at unearthing the probable cause of the crash, which claimed 50 lives.

And maybe, just maybe, by Thursday we will have answers to the following questions:

What role if any did icing play in the crash?

Why did the pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow, do the opposite of what he should have done, pulling down on the plane's yoke after the plane's stall warning system activated? How well trained were the pilots?

Should they have been flying the plane on autopilot during much of the flight?

Did they distract themselves from an impending emergency by talking more than they should have?

Was the crew too tired to fly?

And most importantly of all, what does all this mean for the flying public?

— Jerry Zremski

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More questions surface about Flight 3407

   WASHINGTON -- Some media reports have made Capt. Marvin Renslow, the pilot of the doomed Continental Connection Flight 3407, look like the sole cause of the Feb. 12 crash, which claimed 50 lives.

   But the closer you look at the crash -- and the more you report it -- the more it seems that there may be plenty of blame to go around.

   It's suspicious, isn't it, that the Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating whether Colgan Air -- which operated the flight -- over-scheduled its pilots?

   And it's suspicious, isn't it, that the National Transportation Safety Board is studying the exotic stall-protection system on the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 and Colgan's training program for pilots that fly the aircraft?

   It's enough to make you ask: what else will we learn when the NTSB begins hearings in the crash on Tuesday?

   -- Jerry Zremski

First responders carry a heavy burden

   Unlike most of us, who run away from crashes, fires and accidents, first responders run to them.

   Is it any wonder then that the police officers, fire fighters and other emergency personnel who responded to the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Clarence are showing signs of post-traumatic stress.

   After all, how do you deal with the deaths of 50 innocent human beings, each one of them the son, daughter, mother or father of someone left behind?

   How do you get beyond the task of combing through debris and rubble in search of human remains?

   And how do you address the sense of helplessness that comes with knowing no one will be found alive?

   Those are the questions counselors, therapists and family members will try to answer in the coming weeks as Erie County's first responders start to recover from the Feb. 12 crash on Long Street.

   Do you have a message for the men and women who sacrificed so much over the past 12 days?

   -- Phil Fairbanks

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Icing -- the cold, hard fact in a tragedy

   WASHINGTON -- The anonymous sources say one thing: that pilot error may well have been the reason behind the tragic crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407.

   But pilots, aviation lawyers and others point back to the early suspect in the crash: icing.

   And while they don't know what the investigators know, those independent sources point to an eerily similar 1994 plane crash in Indiana and 11 other incidents or accidents in the past 15 years involving turboprop planes equipped with pneumatic icing boots.

   Some experts say that such planes should not be flown in cold weather, given their track record, but the airline industry and the FAA insist there's nothing wrong with them.

   But what about those 12 accidents or incidents in 15 years? What do they leave you thinking?

   -- Jerry Zremski

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Controversial church group targets crash services

   The bizarre Westboro Baptist Church has led an anti-gay crusade for years in Topeka, frustrating locals who have been disgusted by the litigious group's ideas and tactics but powerless to stop them.

   Church members have increasingly gone outside the state, and on occasion, the country, to picket at funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as President Obama's grandmother, former President Clinton's mother and others.

   Now they're coming Sunday to picket at two memorial services for Flight 3407, one in Clarence Center and the other in Buffalo.

   How do you think the community should respond to them? Ignore them and deny the attention they want, or meet them head-on with a large protest?

   -- Mark Sommer

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Crash probe looking into possible pilot error

   WASHINGTON -- A year from now, or maybe more, we will finally know what doomed Continental Connection Flight 3407. That's when the National Transportation Safety Board will release its final report, prompting a front-page story in The Buffalo News and a little blurb everywhere else.

   Now, though, papers big and small are focusing on possible pilot error as the cause of the tragic accident, which claimed 50 lives.

   Asked if the pilot had been operating the autopilot in the improper mode,  NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said: "We haven't definitely determined that yet. But that discussion has come up."

   Meanwhile, other sources with knowledge of the investigation said there's a focus on whether the pilot, Capt. Marvin Renslow, mishandled the controls once he left the autopilot mode, thereby dooming the plane to crash.

   But there's one important additional thing to remember.

   "They said that we're looking at the pilot's actions and it's one of many things we're looking at," said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams. "We're still in the very early stages of this investigation."

   -- Jerry Zremski