CLARENCE, N.Y. – Patrick Pettys stepped onto the undisturbed snow covering the site where Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed last Feb. 12, dropped flat onto his back and moved his arms and legs to form a snow angel, looking satisfied as he got up and, with help from his brother Joe, brushed the snow from his coat and neck.
"That was for our sister, Mary. She's our angel," the 39-year-old said, before the brothers left to catch up with about 200 people who already had begun walking Friday from the suburban crash scene toward Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
The group set out on foot to finish the journey of the Newark-to-Buffalo plane's passengers, and to push proposed aviation changes that address issues such as pilot training and fatigue cited by crash investigators. Jeffrey Skiles, co-pilot of the US Airways plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River last year, walked with the group.
"It's just a tremendously admirable thing they're doing," said Skiles, who has lobbied in Washington with the 3407 family group for more stringent qualifications for commercial pilots.
The National Transportation Safety Board this month found that pilot error, specifically an "inappropriate response" by the inexperienced captain to a key piece of safety equipment, caused the 74-seat plane to plunge into a home five air miles short of the runway, killing all 49 aboard and the home's owner.
The crash also raised questions about the dependence of major carriers like Continental on lower-paying regional airlines such as the one operating Flight 3407, Colgan Air Inc.
"I don't think anybody had any idea. I never heard of Colgan Airlines, her ticket said Continental," said Marilyn Kausner while awaiting the start of the 10-mile walk, a picture of her 24-year-old daughter, Ellyce, pinned to her sweat shirt. The law student was on her way home — less than a mile from the crash site — to be her 4-year-old nephew's date for a school Valentine's Day lunch when she died.
"Since then, everything we've found out has only deepened our grief and our resolve," her mother said.
Family members have made frequent shows of force in Washington during the past year, meeting with Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt and members of Congress, wearing red as they attended en masse the NTSB and congressional hearings.
They wore red again Friday and dedicated a red and white wreath of carnations at the site before bowing their heads for a prayer and beginning their walk.
"We certainly can't save our families any more. They're gone," Patrick Pettys, the youngest of 10 siblings, said. "All we can do is try to save other people."
Tina Siniscalco of the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca grew anxious as she walked up to the crash site, now a starkly bare lot on a street full of established homes and trees. For her and most others at the walk and on the plane, the accident struck, literally, close to home.
"It's unbelievable that it happened in our community," said Siniscalco, whose sister Mary Abraham was killed. "But we're trying to make it never happen again because it's the worst thing that any family could ever, ever go through."