CLARENCE CENTER, N.Y. — A commuter plane that smashed into a house apparently plunged flat to the ground rather than nose-diving, ending up pointed away from the airport it was trying to reach, investigators said Saturday.
Investigators did not offer an explanation as to why the plane ended up pointed away from the Buffalo airport, but it does raise the possibility the pilots were fighting an icy airplane: Air safety guidelines say pilots can try a 180-degree turn to rid a plane of ice.
Other possible explanations are that the aircraft was spinning or flipped upon impact.
Flight data showed the plane's safety systems warned the pilot that the aircraft was perilously close to losing lift and plummeting from the sky. The ensuing crash killed 49 people on the plane and one in the house.
Continental Connection Flight 3407 was cleared to land on a runway pointing to the southwest, but it crashed with its nose pointed northeast, said Steve Chealander, a National Transportation Safety Board member.
The flight, from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo, didn't nose-dive into the house, as initially reported by some witnesses, Chealander said.
It will take as many as four days to remove human remains from the site, which he called an "excavation."
"Keep in mind, there's an airplane that fell on top of a house, and they're now intermingled," he said.
DNA and dental records will be used to identify the bodies, he said.
The plane — on its descent to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in a light snow and mist — plunged suddenly about 6 miles shy of the runway and exploded.
A "stick shaker" and "stick pusher" mechanism had activated to warn Capt. Marvin Renslow that the plane was about to stall. When the "stick pusher" engaged, it would have pointed the nose of the plane toward the ground to try to increase lift.
Crash investigators picked through wreckage Saturday. Ice on the aircraft is suspected to have played a role, but officials have stopped short of calling that the cause.
Chealander said that indicator lights showed the deicing equipment was working and that investigators who examined both engines said it appears they had been working normally.
Chealander said the NTSB would use black box data to determine whether the plane was in a flat spin before it crashed