Episode 13: Continental Connection Flight 3407

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In this week's episode, Shelly takes us into the world of regional airlines as we look at the legacy of Continental Connection Flight 3407, also known as Colgan Air Flight 3407. When a flight from Newark to Buffalo stalls just before reaching its destination, the crash itself is only the beginning of the story. Listen to learn about the shocking reasons that contributed to this air disaster!

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2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407 Crash Exposes Safety Gaps in Regional Carriers

In episode 9 of Take to the Sky: the Air Disaster Podcast, we explore one of the NTSB’s most important air accident investigations, the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, or Colgan Air Flight 3407. In 2009, the commuter jet crashed into a residential neighborhood in Clarence Center, NY, and the investigation exposed major safety gaps across regional airlines. The crash led to many changes including the eventual passing of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. 

Regional Jets: A Convenient Way to Fly

Many of us who used to travel for work have taken convenient, short commuter flights to hop between major cities. These flights have helped us to travel efficiently and cost effectively for many years and are often operated by regional carriers who partner with the mainline carriers like American, Delta, and United. This partnership is what is known as the hub-and-spoke model: the larger carriers are based in and operate out of central hubs in big cities while regional carriers offer their passengers shorter root flights in between the major cities. 

The partnership also has real benefits to customers: in addition to being cheaper, it makes travel appear seamless, meaning a customer who disembarks from a mainline carrier flight and boards a regional carrier flight does not have to recheck bags and only has to buy a single ticket. And the regional aircraft they fly has the same look and feel as the large carrier – in fact, the planes often bear a version of the large carrier logos and use their brand colors. But if you were to look at any of the tickets these passengers have, you would see in very fine print that your Delta or American or United flight is actually operated by the regional carrier, which is, in most cases, a completely separate company. In fact, they are considered to be independent contractors to the large carriers. 

This model first developed in the 1970s after the de-regulation of the airline industry. Low-cost carriers like Southwest continued to grab market share, putting price pressure on the large carriers. But after decades of offering this hub and spoke model, some in the industry claim that the large carriers needed to eliminate cost as a key motivator to initiating and continuing these partnerships. And in eliminating cost, carriers constantly looked at ways to trim expenses, including reducing or stabilizing crew salaries. And some would also say that over time, these same cost cutting measures ultimately endangered the safety of passengers.

The crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 pulled back the proverbial curtain on the lives of regional pilots, where according to the PBS Frontline Documentary Flying Cheap, “the work is hard, the days are long, and the pay is low.”

Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crashes in Upstate New York Enroute to Buffalo International

On February 12, 2009, Continental Connection Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, is approaching Buffalo Niagara International Airport, about to conclude its short, 53-minute flight from Newark International. Onboard are two flight attendants, 45 passengers, and 2 crew: Captain Marvin Renslow, who is the pilot in command, and First Officer Rebecca Shaw. On this flight, Captain Renslow is also busy providing guidance to First Officer Shaw, who is new in her role and is a former flight instructor from Seattle, WA. At the time of the flight, First Officer Shaw is deciding what her next career move is and whether she wants to pursue a career path towards Captain. 

The aircraft they are flying is a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 (or what we will refer to from now on as the Q400), known for its distinctive high tail and twin-engine turbo props. It was developed to meet the requirements of regional airlines for larger aircraft on high-density, short-haul roots, and it happens to also be one of the world’s quietest turboprop aircraft. 

On this night in February, and before taking off, Continental Connection Flight 3407 has been delayed two hours due to light snow and fog – a delay time that is actually longer than their 53-minute flight. Because of the delay, many disgruntled passengers are relieved to finally be heading toward their destination. After all that wait, the flight is now heading northwest over upstate New York. At their destination in Buffalo, snow and light wind are forecast and visibility is low due to snow and heavy fog. 

Shortly after being cleared for landing at Buffalo International, at around 10:16 PM, the flight disappears from radar. Air traffic control (ATC) first tries to make contact with Flight 3407 and then again by contacting another nearby flight, and they get no response. Assuming the worst, ATC asks emergency dispatch to contact the nearby fire department at Clarence Center, NY, which is in the direct path of the flight and near its last known location according to radar. 

Firefighters immediately spring into action when they hear dispatch announce there is a probable plane crash. And they don’t have far to go – they are less than a block from the crash scene. 

The plane has crashed into a house at 6038 Long Street, home of the Wielinksi family, and just 5 miles, or 8 kilometers, from Buffalo International Airport. The crash is so close to the fire station that, in fact, some of the firefighters run to the scene on foot since the fire truck can only hold so many of them at one time.

Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crashes into Clarence Center, NY Residential Neighborhood

For Karen Wielinski, life is changed in an instant. She and her husband Douglas are sitting in the family room at the back of the house. Around 10:15, Douglas decides he is going to bed. Seconds after Douglas leaves the room, Karen hears a noise that is unique. Her first thought is, that’s a plane. And her second thought is, if that’s a plane, it is going to hit something. That is the very moment when the walls to her house come crashing down around her. After the blast, Karen questions if she was even still actually alive. She regains her focus after the initial shock and sees a little hole up and to the right of where she is still sitting on her loveseat. She tries to go through the hole, but something is blocking it. She begins pushing on the object until, finally, it budges, and Karen manages to pull herself up and out through the hole. 

The youngest of Karen’s two daughters, Jill, is also at home and in the front upstairs bedroom. When the plane hits the house, Jill is completely knocked off her bed. Everything is dark, but Jill sees the glow of flames immediately shooting upwards. She feels her way through the dark until she, too, comes to another opening and slides down an object to safety on the ground. The object is later determined to be one of the plane’s wings. 

While Karen and Jill have both managed to escape alive, Douglas Wielinski is not as lucky. Karen and her daughter are immediately taken to the hospital by EMS. 

Aside from the miraculous survival of Karen and her daughter Jill, the only other saving grace is that the plane has managed to strike and destroy only the Wielinski family home – it could have been even more catastrophic if other houses had been involved. 

Meanwhile, the fire from the crash is burning so high and so hot that, without protective gear, none of the firefighters can get closer than 100 feet from the debris. To make matters worse, when the plane hit, it also exploded a gas line, which made putting the fire out even more hazardous. One firefighter said the entire neighborhood was glowing orange because the fire was so intense. It can be seen by people who are driving in their cars blocks away. 

NTSB Searches Wreckage for Clues to Colgan Air Flight 3407 Crash 

By morning, the blaze is mostly extinguished, and the NTSB arrives on scene. 

Continental Connection Flight 3407 is the worst crash in the US in more than seven years after a period of relatively accident-free flying since 2002. And because of this fact, there is immediate and intense scrutiny on finding out what happened. 

The investigation immediately hits its first obstacle. The plane has crashed right into the Wielinski house and then it burns all night, which means most of the debris from the plane is inside the house, mixed in with human remains and the contents of the home. As it burns, the debris sinks further and further into the home’s basement. This creates a 10-foot-deep layer of debris and soot the investigators must sort through to identify parts of the plane. The NTSB solicits assistance from students at a local university majoring in forensic anthropology, who come to dig and sift through all the debris looking for evidence of the plane. They must go painstakingly through every piece and determine is it from the plane, human remains, or the house. 

The obvious concern for NTSB is that they are losing precious evidence in the fire, especially the two black boxes – the cockpit voice recorder (or CVR) and the flight data recorder (or FDR). Due to the urgency of finding those boxes, and even though the wreckage is still burning, investigators, with the help of firefighters, begin to search wreckage for the boxes, which are located in the tail section of the plane. 

They eventually do find the tail section about a block away and are able to cut their way inside the tail using a heavy-duty chop saw. The good news – and the only good news other than the two members of the Wielinski family who survived – is that the recorders appear to be undamaged. 

As the NTSB does during crash investigations, investigators are looking for the four corners of the plane (nose, tail, and both wingtips) to determine if the plane broke up inflight or once it crashed on the ground. They find all four corners at the crash site, immediately eliminating the theory of a midair break up. 

Their next avenue of exploration is to determine if a malfunction caused the crash. The NTSB knows they are dealing with a landing accident, which means they should assess aircraft performance and flight control continuity. 

NTSB Rules Out Ice, Weather in Colgan Air Flight 3407 Crash

To assess if there were any problems in the cockpit, they begin to analyze the cockpit voice recorder (CVR). And they hear some facts of note. Six minutes before the crash, the crew notices an ice build-up on the aircraft. In fact, First Officer Shaw remarks that it is a lot of ice. During this observation of ice, First Officer Shaw also remarks how, until a year ago, she had no experience with ice build-up. She says, “I'd have freaked out. I'd have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash.” 

Ice is an obvious concern because if there is too much ice on the wings, it will create more drag, which then requires more power to maintain a given airspeed. But on the CVR, there is no indication that either pilot checks to ensure that the de-icing and anti-icing systems are ON. 

Right after the pilots both spot ice on the plane, the stick shaker warning goes off. The stick shaker is a warning that the plane is about to stall. The question for the NTSB to explore is, were the icing conditions bad enough to create some sort of a failure that caused the crash? The flight data recorder (FDR) confirms the de-icing system was selected ON during most of the flight and at the very end of the flight. And they confirm the de-icing valves were working. 

While the de-icing systems were ON and working at the time of the crash, the NTSB next considers, was there SO much ice that they did not have enough power to maintain airspeed and that the de-icing system could not get rid of the ice fast enough? And it is through this avenue of inquiry where they start to uncover important clues about the plane’s stall speed. 

NTSB Finds Continental Connection Flight 3407 Was Stalling Before Crash

The Q400 operating manual says the airplane’s stall speed, given these exact conditions, was 111 knots (or 127 mph). The airplane speed at the time the stick shaker went off was 131 knots (or 150 mph), which is, of course, well above the stall threshold. They look for clues that would explain why, if they were 20 knots above when a stall would occur, why did the stick shaker go off and why did the plane fall out the sky? 

Investigators discover that the Q400 has something unique called a reference speed switch located on the overhead panel and is designed as an extra safety feature. The Q400 is one of the only planes that has this switch. Pilots are supposed to turn it on into the increase position when flying through icy conditions. When the switch is in the increase position, it reminds pilots to fly faster to counteract any drag issues that may impact the lift of the wings caused by ice. This is because when ice accrues, it can cause the stall speed to go up, so this switch causes the stall warning to come on sooner at a higher speed than the stall threshold as a preventative measure. This switch basically changes the trigger settings for the stall shaker. The NTSB finds that crews get information on the reference speed switch in their training, but not a lot of it and certainly not about how to handle nuances surrounding the switch. 

Though the plane’s overhead panel from the wreckage is badly damaged, investigators determine that the reference speed switch on Flight 3407 was indeed set to the increase position, which meant it was set to trigger stall warnings sooner. 

Looking back over and listening to the CVR, Captain Renslow commands the plane to fly at the normal approach speed. But with the reference speed switch set to increase, he should have been flying faster, which is what the switch would have reminded him to do. 

And if looking at the airspeed indicator, Captain Renslow should have seen that his speed was starting to slow, and the stick shaker warning was about to go off. And before the stall warning, the pilots also should have seen a set of red bars on the one side of the airspeed indicator that show the speed is getting too slow and the stall warning may come on.

But, when the stick shaker goes off, both Captain Renslow and First Officer Shaw are caught off guard. All they would have to do is turn the switch off (because they were not actually in a stall at this point) or just put the nose down and increase their airspeed. Any of those actions would have prevented an actual stall. 

Here is what happened once the stall shaker sounded. The flight data recorder (FDR) shows that right after the stick shaker is triggered, the plane suddenly pulls up, which slows the aircraft and causes an aerodynamic stall. On the NTSB simulation, which lays out in terrifying visual detail what happened, right after the stick shaker goes off, the plane rolls to the left and then sharply to the right, and for a moment it is almost completely on its right side. And then the plane rolls back and forth again and again. And then one final time, it rolls sharply to the right and pitches all the way over and then upside down. And then, dramatically, the plane falls straight to the ground. 

Everyone onboard knew this was a life-threatening situation and that the plane was falling from the sky. There is no sugar coating it. It must have been horrifying for everyone onboard Flight 3407. 

And here is the cornerstone of this tragedy: when the stall shaker went off, the plane was not actually stalling, it was just a warning from a system meant to act as a preventative measure. But shortly after the shaker went off, the plane did end up stalling. This strange sequence of events makes the NTSB focus on the crew and their actions immediately after the stall warning sounded. Right now, to investigators, it looks like the plane stalled for no apparent reason. 

And this investigative avenue takes them down a road that leads to this crash being one of the most important investigations the NTSB has ever conducted. 

NTSB Finds Colgan Air Flight 3407 Pilot Failed to Recover from Basic Stall

Investigators focus on the use of the control column, which is used by pilots to change the elevator pitches and the ailerons – which manage the direction of the plane. The FDR records data about the control positions. In response to the stick shaker, Captain Renslow should have pushed the nose down to gain speed, but he did the exact opposite. He pulled back on the control. This caused the plane’s nose to pull up, causing the airspeed to drop, and tipping the plane into a real stall. In doing so, according to the Air Emergency episode on this crash, Captain Renslow failed to recover from one the most fundamental pilot maneuvers: the stall. 

Had the Captain just pushed forward and added full power, he would have likely quickly recovered from the stall. And, it is found that First Officer Shaw made the situation worse. She retracts the flaps, reducing the amount of lift as the plane struggled to stay in the air. Had she called out that the plane was in a stall and the proper procedures, the airplane could have recovered; however, investigators believe she lacked the necessary experience to aid in the situation. The final conclusions of the NTSB investigation are that the primary cause of the crash of Flight 3407 is that Captain Renslow failed to follow the proper procedure to recover from a stall, causing the plane to crash. 

From a technical perspective, there was no reason at all why the plane should have gone down. This is a sobering and grim conclusion for the families and one that requires some additional unpacking. 

Because the cause of the crash was cited as pilot error, the NTSB brings onboard, Evan Byrne, a human performance investigator to examine the human error factor. Bern observes that there were many queues given to both pilots that warned them about their deteriorating airspeed, but the crew did not heed those warnings. 

Byrne reviews all the flight and voice recorder data for clues as to what would have led to these oversights. He discovers a great deal of banter between the Captain and First Officer that occurred all through the flight and into the landing approach, which violates a rule known as the sterile cockpit rule. This important rule bans conversation that is not absolutely essential to the operation of the flight, especially during landing and takeoff procedures. The flight crew was so focused on their conversation, that the pilots completed critical checklists late. Investigators deduce that the crew was so distracted by their own conversations that they probably did not see the red bars along the airspeed indicator warning them that they were flying too slowly for the conditions the plane had been configured for. This is a situation where the crew is now vulnerable to making more mistakes that could lead to surprise events that could startle them. 

Colgan Pilot Failed Previous Check Rides Before Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crash

To make matters worse, according to The Wall Street Journal, Captain Marvin Renslow had failed five “check rides,” or hands-on tests, conducted in a cockpit or a simulator, before the crash. Colgan said it had known about one previous failure at the time, but the captain had not told the company about the two others. Congress passed a law requiring airlines to get the performance records of job candidates, waiving some privacy laws to make the information transfer possible. But Colgan said on Monday that the law did not cover the three tests Captain Renslow had failed before he was hired, because they were in general aviation, meaning non-airline flying.

In terms of experience, the credentials of the pilots were an interesting comparison. According to the flight’s Wikipedia page, Captain Renslow was hired in September 2005 and had accumulated around 3,300 total flight hours, with just 111 hours as captain on the Q400. First Officer Shaw was hired in January 2008, and had a little over 2,400 flight hours, and 774 of them in turbine aircraft including the Q400. Ironically, despite having less experience than First Officer Shaw on turbine aircraft, on this flight, Captain Renslow is providing guidance to First Officer Shaw, who has only been there over a year. Interesting difference in credentials here.

The evidence was clear: the crew of Flight 3407 was badly distracted throughout the approach. It caused them to forget they made a key setting change, mainly putting the reference speed indicator in the increase position, that required them to fly faster than normal. They also missed indicators that told them they were flying too slow for icing conditions they were flying in, and then Captain Renslow reacted incorrectly to the stall warning, which sealed their fate. 

But this was only the beginning in terms of the ripple effects from the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. 

Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crash Highlights Long Days, Low Pay for Regional Pilots

While the findings of the investigation seem straight forward, Flight 3407 and its investigation forced the airline industry to look at issues of pilot fatigue, training, and pay, as well as the regulatory relationships between regional and large carriers. 

The investigation opened a window into the lives of regional pilots in 2009. First, the days are long, and the pay is low. While regional pilots are limited to working 8 hours per day, they may be on duty for 16. But that does not equate to earnings – they only got paid from the time when the plane door closes and they push back from the gate, not for any other time – waiting in the airports, traveling, etc. They may work 80 hours per week but get paid for 20 of it. Starting hourly rates for First Officers was just $21 per hour. One pilot said in the Frontline documentary that in his first year he made only $21K gross. In fact, related to Flight 3407, First Officer Shaw was paid only $15K per year and Captain Renslow was paid $60K. To reduce expenses, many pilots commute from less expensive communities into the main hubs out of which they would fly. Having long commutes mean that pilots may sleep in lounges or stay with other pilots in “crash pads” where multiple pilots share a single space where they sleep and change clothes. They often do not have enough money to stay in hotels. 

The second big issue was what it took to make Captain. Many First Officers made Captain within just 9-12 months, which meant they did not have that many flying hours. Sometimes, they made Captain with just 500 hours. At the time of the crash, regional co-pilots were only required to have 250 hours of flight time. As a general rule, according to some pilots interviewed for an article in the Buffalo News, the experience level in regional airlines is about a tenth of the experience level in major airlines.

And, the revenue model for regional carriers was also problematic. Regional carriers like Flight 3407 were paid based on completion of the flight. So, if there is any deviation because of weather or a cancelled flight due to a sick pilot, their revenue is jeopardized. Critics say this could create conditions where it may not be safe to fly and that it in fact creates an incentive that is contrary to safety. Being on time becomes more important than that of weather conditions or of a pilot’s health or fatigue level. 

Throughout Continental Connection Flight 3407, the crew demonstrated they were indeed fatigued (they were heard yawning multiple times). During the NTSB investigation, investigators interviewed the families of the pilots, studied their phone activity, and examined their schedules to get a sense of everything they did in the time leading up to the crash. Like so many other pilots, neither pilot of Flight 3407 lived near the airport because they could not afford to live there and both had long commutes. First Officer Shaw had committed all night on a cargo plane from Seattle connecting through Memphis. Captain Renslow had spent the night before in the airline’s crew lounge in Newark Airport after having already worked two days and was up at 3 AM to prepare for this flight. He was seen sleeping in the pilot lounge. And First Officer Shaw was sick on Flight 3407 with audible sniffling heard throughout the CVR. 

Colgan Air Had History of Problems Before Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crash

Flight 3407 was not actually a Continental Airlines flight; it is actually being operated by a local carrier, Colgan Air. In the 80s and 90s, Continental had originally built up its own regional line named Continental Express, but it sold it off and began to outsource shorter roots to regional carriers, like Colgan Air. 

Colgan Air was based out of Manassas, Virginia, and started in 1965 by the Colgan family. It grew as an air taxi operator, like a charter company, flying executives between New York and DC. Over the next several decades, it experienced a rapid rise as a regional carrier. They invested in larger planes that allowed them to carry more passengers and fly longer distances. By 2005, they had doubled in size and Colgan had won flying contracts with United, Continental, and US Airways serving the markets across the Northeast and throughout Texas. 

A key question about Colgan Air related to this crash was, were there warning signs of safety concerns that if addressed could have prevented this tragedy? 

According to the Frontline documentary, even before the crash of Flight 3407, there was growing concern over regional carrier safety. Between 2002 and 2009, the previous 6 fatal accidents involved regional carriers. In 4 of those accidents, the NTSB cited pilot error. 

As early as 1998, Colgan’s problems were evident as it began to grow as a regional airline. It was supposed to have upgraded its operations to meet the standards of safety same as the major airlines. But, the company claimed it needed to make significant changes in order to meet the new safety standards. It had promised to make changes in pilot training, record keeping, management, maintenance, and safety audit systems. But 7 years later in 2005, Colgan had still not made all the changes necessary to meet the new regulations and standards. There were not enough managers, check airmen (supervisor pilots), maintenance personnel. It was clear to investigators that Colgan could not effectively manage or control their safety business. A former FAA inspector for Colgan Air discovered this lack of progress and took his concerns to his office manager at the FAA along with a recommendation for taking remedial actions against the regional airline, but they were getting pushback from Colgan Air President, Mike Colgan. The FAA inspector was told, ultimately, that Mike Colgan is a friend of this office, and this chilled the inspector from further investigating. 

Three years later, in 2008, problems still existed when Colgan won its contract with United. It began flying a new airplane, the Q400 – the same as Flight 3407. Growing pains plagued the airline and crews found flying the new airplane complicated and difficult. The FAA became concerned that pilots were not flying the airplanes effectively after receiving reports of pilots exercising poor judgement during flight on the Q400. And Colgan was short on check airmen (supervisor pilots) for the Q400 fleet.  There was a pilot who reportedly falsified load manifests so that all the passengers and their luggage would fit, creating very dangerous flying situations. In this case, the FAA revoked that pilot’s license. Instead of firing the pilot or coming out against the pilot, Colgan testified in an FAA appeal hearing in defense of the captain who falsified the manifest. This shocks the FAA and they feel this raised red flag that perhaps the corporate culture was creating a safety issue. The safety warnings from this case were forwarded to FAA HQ in Washington, just 4 months before the crash. So, in retrospect, this was absolutely a series of blinding red flags that should have been fully investigated. 

And, the families of the passengers felt there was a bigger picture beyond what the NTSB investigation report found. 

Since the crash, the families have argued that Colgan Air and Continental Airlines were as responsible for the crash as the two pilots behind the controls. They tried repeatedly to make the case that Colgan’s pilots were not well-trained and that the airline required them to fly despite illness and fatigue.  Within months of the crash, family members filed 46 wrongful-death lawsuits in federal court. The settlements are confidential, but sources close to the process have indicated that most of them are in the seven-figure range.

One piece of evidence that might not ever be made public, absent a trial, is the so-called Sabatini safety audit. Hired by Colgan after the crash, Nick Sabatini & Associates, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm, reviewed the airline’s training and safety record. Lawyers for the families contend that Sabatini’s report would have supported their view that Colgan’s pilots were often tired or fatigued and their training subpar. Colgan tried to keep the audit out of the court case but failed. The details of the report, which remains secret, would have been revealed during a trial.

Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crash Victims’ Families Advocate for Safety Changes

Aside from the civil suit, the families also believe that changes needed to be enacted throughout the regional carrier industry to be sure this never happened again to other families. 

According to a 2019 news article by Katie Gibas for The Spectrum News, the victims’ families sprang into action to make a change. The families took Washington by storm in their legislative pursuits, gaining the support from some heavy hitters in aviation. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Miracle on the Hudson’s pilot, and his first officer, Jeff Skiles, joined the families in their advocacy.

Because of the families’ advocacy efforts, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 was passed. The law increased crew rest requirements between shifts and limited duty times. It required the first officer to have an Airline Transport Pilot license – which is the highest standard. The rule also requires first officers to get the same 1,500 hours of flight time as pilots for their certification to fly passenger and cargo planes. Previously, only the captain had to have the certification. It required airlines to disclose who was operating the flight: if it was the major carrier through which the ticket was purchased, or a smaller, regional carrier. It maintained that airlines have formal safety management systems, training plans, and professional development. That legislation was renewed in the latest FAA Reauthorization Bill that passed in fall 2018, solidifying it for at least another five years. These changes if not reauthorized are set to expire in 2023.

Aside from the civil suits filed and receiving compensation that way, New York Governor David Paterson did the right thing by proposing the creation of a scholarship fund to benefit children and financial dependents of the 50 crash victims. The Flight 3407 Memorial Scholarship was established to cover costs for up to four years of undergraduate study at a State University of NY school or the City University of NY, or a private college or university in New York State.

The Wielinski family also received their own day in court. According to an article by James Staas for the Buffalo News, Karen Wielinski and her daughters sued the airlines for the wrongful death of her 61-year-old husband, his pain and suffering, and for the family's injuries, pain and suffering.

Since the settlement was confidential, the amount of money the family received was not announced. Lawyers who represented the family said the legal action held Continental Airlines as the owner and operator of the plane, responsible for Flight 3407. They said that was an important factor in getting a settlement for the Wielinski family. Lawyers also said it led to Continental rewriting its contract with regional carriers so that Continental can be held responsible for pilot safety training.

Notable Colgan Air Flight 3407 Passenger Perished in 2009 Crash 

Lastly, related to the passengers, onboard was a notable passenger: Beverly Eckert, who lost her husband, Sean, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Beverly fought as a staunch advocate and pushed for an investigation into the attacks. In fact, she was one of the members of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Commission. She also advocated for the establishment of a 9/11 memorial. Beverly had just met with President Barack Obama six days before she died in the crash.

Clarence Center Residents Come Together After Continental Connection Flight 3407 Crash

And, of course, we can never forget the first responders and how they also were deeply touched by this tragedy. 

Former Clarence Center fire chief Dave Case says he thought when the call came in, that it was going to be a much smaller plane, like a Cessna. When he saw the tail fin, he was immediately struck by the size of the tail and the knowledge that this was not at all a small plane. Still to this day, when he passes by Long Street, the location of the crash site, this is the image that continues to plague him. 

When it comes to the emotions, the aftermath, the effect of 50 lives lost and seeing mass casualties, firefighters say the experience lingers with them every day. 

Despite the trauma, firefighters have seen a lot of good come from the tragedy. They feel the event made them stronger as first responders and as a team. Reflecting on how the community rallied to support the crews on scene, Former fire chief Case recounted that when he came back to the hall after fighting the blaze at the scene for hours, the banquet hall had been transformed by wall to ceiling water, drinks, and food. People from the town were asking what they could do to help. 

In a WKBW news article from 2019, Staff Inspector Steven Nigrelli talks about why this crash is something we should not forget. He shares that while this is the most tragic event that Clarence Center has experienced as a town, it also signifies a community coming together for a common cause. The article goes on to say that he remembers the scene itself, with children coming every few hours, delivering freshly baked cookies for firefighters and police officers. Local restaurants delivered food to the scene, making sure the men and women working around the clock for nearly a week were fed. 

Ten years later, Nigrelli says this tragedy has created incredible relationships for him. He's made friends with the family members of those who died in the crash and with those family members who continue to rally for safety changes in the flight industry. He said, "Just so happens on this plane were a bunch of people who have amazing family members. Steely determination. They will not go away. Because of this tragedy, they forged a bond. They're representative of what our families would do in Western New York. We don't let things go away. We don't give up."

As April 2021, Colgan Air Flight 3407 is the most recent aviation incident resulting in mass casualties involving a US-based airline.  And THAT is the story of Continental Connection Flight 3407.

Show Notes:

We talk about the hobbies people have taken up during quarantine. Shelly's son has been busy with legos, and Stephanie's nieces Phoebe and Chloe started a garden- check out these pictures to see how much they have grown this spring!


Written and produced by: Shelly Price and Stephanie Hubka
Directed and engineered by: Crosse deStreit, Salmon Pond Studios
Sound editing by: Stephanie Hubka
Graphic design and website by: Adam Hubka
Music by: Mike Dunn
Continental Connection Flight 3407

Image Source: flyingmag.com

Continental Connection Flight 3407

Similar plane as Colgan Air Flight 3407. Image Source: Wikipedia

Flight 3407 passenger Beverly Ecker met President Obama just 6 days before the crash. Image Source: Wikipedia