NEW YORK — As the families of Flight 3407 victims visited the crash site near Buffalo for the first time yesterday, federal investigators offered fresh evidence that ice on the wings disrupted the plane's ability to fly, saying another pilot in western New York reported dangerous icing the same night.
All signs appear to point away from the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop having had a mechanical problem before it crashed in a Buffalo suburb Thursday, killing all 49 on board and a man on the ground, National Transportation Safety Board member Steven Chealander said Monday at a news briefing.
"Everything that's found thus far on the engine is consistent with high-powered flight," Chealander said, noting how the aircraft "entered the ground, how much it dug itself in, the angles of the blades."
The Colgan Air crew, on a Continental Connections flight from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo, reported icing on the windshield on the approach to the airport. About a minute later, the airplane stalled violently and then fell to the ground in 26 seconds.
Another Colgan turboprop also reported "moderate" icing about 27 minutes later but landed without incident, Chealander said. About the same time and 50 miles south, another flight crew reported "severe icing," the most dangerous category, he said.
Because the airplane that crashed was on autopilot as it descended, the icing issue has exposed a rift between the NTSB, which advises pilots to fly manually in conditions producing even "thin amounts of ice," and the Federal Aviation Administration, which says aircraft are safe on autopilot in "light to moderate icing."
On Monday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he called Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the "differing recommendations." According to Schumer, LaHood said a FAA administrator "will be addressing this issue immediately."
Air safety experts said an important question for the NTSB inquiry remains: How severe was the icing faced by flight captain Marvin Renslow, 47, of Lutz and first officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24, of Seattle? Chealander said forecasts were for "light-to-moderate" icing, but it's unknown exactly what Flight 3407 encountered.
As investigators pieced together the crash events, the families of the victims arrived at the crash site in the hamlet of Clarence Center. In a statement Chealander read, they thanked first responders and crews working to remove the wreckage and victims' remains.