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Two Flight 3407 victims, including flight's pilot, had ties to Tampa Bay area

The fiery crash of a Continental commuter plane near Buffalo late Thursday killed two men with deep roots in the Tampa Bay area, including the doomed aircraft's pilot.

Marvin Renslow, 47, of Lutz, was likely at the controls when Continental Express Flight 3407, the twin turboprop aircraft, dropped abruptly from the sky and fell into a house, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground.

And among the Continental passengers was Clay Yarber, 62, a retired Marine and popular guitarist who had lived in the Tampa Bay area for 30 years.

Their lives intersected more than 1,200 miles away, in the nation's first deadly crash of a commercial airliner in 2½ years.

"We're all devastated," said Doug Norton, 44, Renslow's neighbor since 1997.

Federal investigators said Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw noticed significant ice buildup on the wings and windshield moments before the plane began pitching and rolling violently.

Officials would not go as far to say ice caused the crash. But ice on a plane's wings can interfere with an aircraft's handling, and has been blamed for major air disasters over the years.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Roland Herwig said Renslow had no prior accidents or incidents as part of his flying record. He had worked with Continental Connection operator Colgan Air since 2005.

News of the tragedy rocked families and friends, neighborhoods and churches, who all struggled to comprehend what had happened, and why.

"He was doing what he loved to do. He was living his dream," said Alan Burner, associate pastor of education and evangelism at First Baptist Church of Lutz, where Renslow worshipped.

Renslow, a small town kid from southwest Iowa, moved to Lutz in 1997 with his wife, Sandy, and children, son Tyler, 17, and daughter Kaylee, 12.

He sang in the church choir and played drums for the praise band. Renslow was a devout Christian, his sister Shirlene Thiesfeld of Kansas City, Mo., told the Omaha World-Herald.

"He had a great sense of humor," Thiesfeld said. "He would just leave you in stitches. He was really fun-loving and just such a good friend."

Thiesfeld told the World-Herald she hadn't talked to her brother for a few weeks, but their mother had visited the family in Florida recently.

"You couldn't ask for better neighbors," added next-door neighbor Maria Sparr, 36. She said Renslow wasn't home much, but when he was, he would ask about her children.

"If ever I needed anything, I always felt comfortable going over there," Sparr said.

Decorated veteran

Yarber, who lived in the Tampa Bay area from 1978 until last year, was a Vietnam War veteran decorated with two Purple Hearts, said his daughter, Nicole Yarber, 28, of St. Petersburg

He came to Florida with ex-wife Shari Ingram, to whom he was married for four years, to join what Ingram said was a thriving local music scene in Tampa Bay during the 1970s.

He played guitar and sang with local doo-wop, blues and Elvis impersonator bands. The distinctive, 6-foot-4 musician also performed often at the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg and other local venues with his bands, PowerPlay and Taxi.

"He was one of the heroes in town as far as the music world goes," said Bobby Barnes, one of Yarber's friends and former bandmates.

Yarber, who had recently moved to California, was heading to New York to visit a female friend, Ingram, 57, said.

Ingram, who lives in Largo, and Yarber had a 22-year-old son, Chris, whom Yarber lived with in California.

Ingram was upset with airline officials because they couldn't initially confirm whether Yarber was on the Buffalo flight.

"It was mixed up, because at first they said no, he wasn't on the connecting flight," Ingram said. "Then they called back and said he was."

Yarber was married six times, and in addition to Nicole and Chris and another son, Rick, he has three daughters in Ohio. His mother, brother and three sisters also live in Ohio.

"You couldn't live with him, couldn't live without him," Ingram said. "But he had a heart of gold."

Ingram flew Friday to see her son in California, a trip planned for months. She recently spoke to Yarber and they laughed over flying on Friday the 13th. "Now I'm scared to death to get on a plane," she said before the flight.

Times staff writers Steve Huettel, Camille C. Spencer and Stephanie Garry and Times researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

Two Flight 3407 victims, including flight's pilot, had ties to Tampa Bay area 02/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 4:16pm]
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