50 People Die in Fiery Plane Crash

50 People Die in Fiery Plane Crash
Crash scene of Continental Flight 3407, near Buffalo, NY. Inset: 9/11 widow Beverly Eckert
Gary Wiepert/Reuters/Landov; inset: Douglas Healey/AP

02/13/2009 AT 08:30 AM EST

A Sept. 11 widow from Connecticut was among the 50 people killed Thursday night, when a Continental Airlines commuter plane from New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport crashed en route to New York's Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The 74-seat Continental Connection Flight 3407 twin turboprop, operated by Colgan Air, was flying in light snow, fog and 17-m.p.h. winds when it crashed into a home about 5 miles from the airport at about 10:20 p.m.

A fire official said the plane "basically dove right into the top" of the house and exploded upon impact.

One person in the home was killed, while two others inside, Karen Wielinski, 57, and her daughter, Jill, 22, were able to escape with minor injuries. Twelve homes were evacuated near the crash site.

There were 49 people onboard the flight, 44 passengers and five crewmembers. Among the passengers was Beverly Eckhart, 50, the widow of Sean Rooney, a Buffalo native who was killed at the World Trade Center in 2001, and herself an activist on behalf of victims' right of the attack.

As co-chairwoman of Voices of Sept. 11, she pushed for a formal commission to investigate intelligence failures surrounding the attack and structural weaknesses in the towers. She also campaigned for a proper memorial to be built to honor the victims.

To Celebrate Husband

Eckert was headed to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband's 58th birthday, reports the Buffalo News. She was scheduled to participate in the presentation of a scholarship established in memory of Rooney at Canisius High School – which was also Tim Russert's alma mater.

Eckert and Rooney had been childhood sweethearts, according to the newspaper. She continued to live in Stamford, Conn., and only last week reportedly met with President Obama and discussed ways to remember those lost in the 2001 attacks.

Investigation Begins

Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected in Buffalo early Friday morning to investigate the crash – the nation's first involving a commercial airliner since Aug. 27, 2006, when 49 people perished after a Comair jetliner took off from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was too short.

Those who may have had a family member onboard Flight 3407 should call Continental at 1-800-621-3263.

President Obama, speaking for himself and the first lady, issued a statement Friday morning saying that they were both "deeply saddened" and were praying "for all those touched by this terrible tragedy."

From Our Partners