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NTSB: Continental Flight 3407 Experienced 'Severe' Pitch and Roll Minutes Before Crash

Federal investigators said doomed Continental Flight 3407 experienced heavy ice buildup and lurched violently moments before it dove into a house near Buffalo, killing 50.

Data collected Friday from the plane's two black boxes "shows a series of severe pitch and roll excursions" shortly before the recording ended and the commuter jet crashed, said Steve Chealander, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Minutes earlier, the pilots reported "significant ice buildup on the windshield and leading edge of the wings," Chealander said. They had already activated the de-icing mechanism on the aircraft just prior to their comments about the ice.

PHOTOS: Fire and Wreckage From the Crash Scene

PHOTOS: Victims of Flight 3407 Crash

VIDEO: Amateur Video Captures Crash Scene Inferno

NTSB investigators retrieved both black boxes — the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — Friday morning and sent them to Washington, D.C., for analysis.

Fourteen members of the NTSB are working on discovering what brought down Flight 3407, Chealander told reporters.

The Continental commuter plane coming in for a landing in Buffalo dropped suddenly and dove into a house in snowy, foggy weather late Thursday night, about 5 or 6 miles from the airport.

All 49 people aboard the plane and one person in the home in the suburb of Clarence, N.Y., were killed.

The black boxes, which were "determined to be of good quality," recorded two hours of conversation, Chealander said.

The crew can be heard briefing each other about the weather in the cockpit, reporting a visibility of 3 miles with snow and mist in the area.

At 16,000 feet, "they noticed it was rather hazy and they requested a descent to 12,000 feet," Chealander said.

Air traffic control gave them clearance. Shortly thereafter, they descended again to 11,000 feet.

"They discussed significant ice buildup on the windshield and leading edge of wings," Chealander said. "The flight data recorder shows the airframe de-ice was selected in the 'on' position prior to that."

One minute before the end of the recording, the landing gear was placed down. Twenty seconds later, pilots engaged the wings' flaps — a normal landing procedure.

It was then that they apparently lost control of the aircraft, as the data recorder showed the plane lurching wildly in pitches and rolls "within seconds of the flaps command," Chealander said.

The crew attempted to raise the landing gear and lower the flaps just before the tape went silent, he said.

The tail of the plane stayed largely intact, which allowed NTSB investigators to search for and find the black boxes in the smoldering wreckage.

Accident Sets Off Fiery Explosion

The crash sparked a huge explosion and fire.

"The whole sky was lit up orange," said Bob Dworak, who lives less than a mile from the crash site. "There was a big bang, and the house shook."

Local fire officials said Friday morning they hadn't begun to extract the victims' remains or the fuselage because the rubble was too hot for them to sift through.

It was the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the U.S. in 2 1/2 years. The flight originated in Newark, N.J.

Witnesses heard the twin turboprop aircraft sputtering before it went down around 10:20 p.m. Thursday. Flames silhouetted the shattered home after the plane crashed.

"It basically dove right into the top of the house from my perspective," Clarence emergency control director Dave Bissonette said. "I'm no expert on re-creation, but it landed on the house, clearly a direct hit."

Doug Wielinski, who was inside the home, was killed. His wife Karen Wielinski, 57, and their daughter Jill, 22, escaped with minor injuries. Twelve homes were evacuated near the crash site.

Houston-based Continental Airlines said the plane carried 44 passengers and a crew of four. There was also an off-duty crew member from Colgan Air, the operator of the regional jet, aboard.

Continental Airlines officials were meeting with loved ones of the passengers on Friday.

Partial List of Victims of Continental Commuter Flight 3407

Among the passengers killed was Beverly Eckert, a woman whose husband died in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Though the passenger list wasn't released Friday morning, Colgan Air did identify the crew who died: pilots Captain Marvin Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw; flight attendants Matilda Quintero and Donna Prisco; and off-duty crew member Captain Joseph Zuffoletto.

A Facebook page had already been dedicated to the victims' loved ones Friday morning.

Terrorism Not Suspected

President Obama issued a statement Friday morning extending his sympathies to the victims' families.

"Michelle and I are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic accident outside of Buffalo last night. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones," the president said.

"We pray for all those who have been touched by this terrible tragedy to find peace and comfort in the hard days ahead."

He also addressed the crash before his remarks to the Business Council Friday morning at the White House, making special mention of Eckert, the 9/11 widow — whom he'd met with recently, along with other Sept. 11 loved ones, to discuss ways to fight terrorism.

Eckert has played an active role in changing intelligence and counter-terror legislation since the attacks.

"Keeping with that passionate commitment, she was on her way to Buffalo to honor her husband’s birthday," Obama said. "I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the days ahead."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington said there was no indication terrorism was involved in the Continental crash.

"All indications are that this was an air-safety event," said spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

New York Gov. David Patterson also offered his condolences on Friday.

"This is a tragic day," Patterson said at a news conference. "(There have been) tremendous human effort and human caring we have all witnessed today."

He said his staff is working with family members to try to arrange a future visit to the crash site to see where their loved ones died.

Air Traffic Control Loses Contact With Flight 3407

The 74-seat aircraft, operated by Colgan Air, was flying from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and preparing to land at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The plane, a Dash 8 Q400 Bombardier, has a history of landing-gear problems.

Click here to read about prior trouble with the type of jet involved in the crash.

The voice of a female pilot on Continental Flight 3407 could be heard communicating with air traffic controllers just before the plane went down, according to a recording of the Buffalo air traffic control's radio messages captured by the Web site LiveATC.net.

Neither the controller nor the pilot showed any concerns that anything was out of the ordinary as the airplane was asked to fly at 2,300 feet.

A minute later, the controller tried to contact the plane but heard no response. After a pause, he tried again.

Eventually, he told an unidentified listener to contact authorities on the ground in the Clarence area.

"You need to find if anything is on the ground," the controller said. "All I can tell you is the aircraft is over the marker (landing beacon), and we're not talking to them now.

"This aircraft was 5 miles out; all of a sudden we have no response from that aircraft."

After the crash, at least two pilots were heard saying they had been picking up ice on their wings. "We've been getting ice since 20 miles south of the airport," one says.

Witnesses Describe Odd Rumbling, Loud Blast

While residents of the neighborhood where the plane went down were used to planes rumbling overhead, witnesses said this one sounded louder than usual, sputtered and made some odd noises.

"It didn't sound normal," said David Luce. "We heard it for a few seconds, then it stopped, then a couple of seconds later was this tremendous explosion."

After hearing the crash, Dworak drove over to take a look, and "all we were seeing was 50- to 100-foot flames and a pile of rubble on the ground. It looked like the house just got destroyed the instant it got hit."

Erie County Executive Chris Collins said the plane was carrying 5,000 pounds of fuel and apparently exploded on impact.

About 30 relatives and others who arrived at the airport in the overnight hours were escorted into a private area and then taken by bus to a senior citizens center in the neighboring town of Cheektowaga, where counselors and representatives from Continental waited to help.

"At this time, the full resources of Colgan Air's accident response team are being mobilized and will be devoted to cooperating with all authorities responding to the accident and to contacting family members and providing assistance to them," the statement said.

"Continental extends its deepest sympathy to the family members and loved ones of those involved in this accident," said Larry Kellner, chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, in a later statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the family members and loved ones of those involved in the Flight 3407 tragedy."

Manassas, Va., based Colgan Air said airline personnel and local authorities were working to confirm the number of people on board and their identities.

Chris Kausner, believing his sister was on the plane, rushed to a hastily established command center after calling his vacationing mother in Florida to break the news.

"To tell you the truth, I heard my mother make a noise on the phone that I've never heard before," he told reporters through tears. "Not good. Not good."

"The fact that the damage is limited to the one residence is really amazing," said state police spokeswoman Rebecca Gibbons.

First Fatal Commercial Jet Crash in United States Since 2006

It was the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people were killed after a Comair jetliner took off from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was too short.

Thursday's crash came less than a month after a US Airways pilot guided his crippled plane to a landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan, saving the lives of all 155 people aboard. Birds had apparently disabled both its engines.

On Dec. 20, a Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway and slid into a snowy field at the Denver airport, injuring 38 people.

Continental's release said relatives and friends of those on Flight 3407 who wanted to give or receive information about those on board could telephone a special family assistance number, 1-800-621-3263.

Additional coverage from FOX 8 Cleveland

The Associated Press contributed to this report.