9/11 Experts Join Efforts to ID Upstate Crash Victims

Loved ones tour site several days after tragedy

Experts who helped identify victims from Flight 93's crash in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11 have joined the search for remains from a commuter plane's crash site outside Buffalo, N.Y.

Continental Flight 3407 dropped from the sky late Thursday night onto a suburban Buffalo home, killing all 49 people on board the plane and one person in the house.

The effort to recover is being led by Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., He is also a nationally renowned expert who was part of the recovery effort at Shanksville.

The job of identifying remains takes time, experts say, which can be difficult for grieving families.

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The crash site is marked out in a pattern of grids and corridors and inspected by teams of professionals and trained volunteers who flag any suspected remains. Precision electronic surveying equipment is used to map the site and record the location of the flags. Everything is photographed.

Once that's done, the material is immediately transferred from the scene to the morgue, where another team of experts uses dental records, fingerprints and DNA to identify the remains.

Loved Ones Tour Crash Site

Families of the victims have begun touring the site of the catastrophic accident.

The plane landed on the home late Thursday night after pitching and rolling wildly for about 20 seconds.

The families have been sequestered in a hotel in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. Officials with the National Transportation and Safety Board said families often ask to visit the crash site where their loved ones have been killed.

Clarence is a small town about 10 miles from Buffalo, N.Y.

Police Dealing With Gawkers

New York State Police
are still restricting access to the site where a commuter plane crashed in order to deter gawkers.

A road that leads to the Clarence Center neighborhood where the plane crashed was reopened to traffic at about 6 p.m. Sunday. But it was closed again after residents complained that people were parking cars and trespassing through backyards to get close to the wreckage.

State Police Capt. Steven Nigrelli said the cars were impeding traffic and causing a safety hazard.

Three people were arrested trying to get to the site, including a man caught hiding behind a home and videotaping the crash site.

Doomed Plane Practically Dropped Out Of Sky

Meanwhile, a federal aviation official said the commuter flight dropped 800 feet in five seconds shortly before impact.

Steve Chealander, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said Sunday that information from the plane's flight-data recorder indicates the aircraft pitched upward at an angle of 31 degrees, then downward 45 degrees in the final moments of Flight 3407.

He added that the plane rolled to the left at 46 degrees, then snapped back to the right at 105 degrees.

At a Sunday briefing, Chealander said radar data shows Flight 3407 fell from 1,800 feet above sea level to 1,000 feet in five seconds.

Plane Was on Autopilot When it Crashed

The commuter plane was on autopilot when it went down in icy weather, indicating that the pilot may have violated federal safety recommendations and the airline's own policy for flying in such conditions, Chealander said Sunday.

Chealander said the company that operated the flight recommends pilots fly manually in icy conditions. Pilots are required to do so in severe ice.

"You may be able in a manual mode to sense something sooner than the autopilot can sense it," Chealander told The Associated Press in an interview, explaining why the NTSB also recommends that pilots disengage the autopilot in icy conditions.

The preliminary investigation indicates the autopilot was still on when the plane crashed, he said. That has not been confirmed by information from the plane's flight data recorder.

The pilots of Continental Flight 3407 discussed "significant" ice buildup on their wings and windshield just before the crash.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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