Tonawanda News

Columns

February 12, 2014

Time turns 3407 tragedy into story of action

Tonawanda News — Anniversaries can sneak up on you sometimes. This one did.

I can't believe it was five years ago nearly to the hour of this writing a perfectly normal airplane making an entirely routine flight on a chilly February night in Western New York simply fell out of the sky.

In the hours and days that followed we came to know airline engineering jargon. We learned an airline pilot working for a regional carrier flying into Buffalo didn't sleep much and had to augment her salary working at a Starbucks a continent away. We came to know the faces and stories of the 50 souls who died.

And in the five years since then we've come to know the inspiring story of those surviving family members who faced unimaginable tragedy foursquare, turning pain and loss into action to make sure it never happens again.

Five years ago Wednesday we came to know the call numbers 3407.

The news at first seemed like it was a mistake. Reports surfaced as the local television stations were coming on air that a small plane — we all assumed a Cessna or something like it — had crashed in Clarence Center.

Then the first images began to surface. A freelance photographer for this paper sent a blurry, snow-dotted image of a massive fireball and a house that had been leveled. The video made it to the 11 p.m. news and it was clear this would be no small story.

It was immediately clear something very big and very sad had happened.

The next 48 hours are a blur for me. Working a double already that night, we tore up the paper, scribbled out what details we had and fired up the presses.

I fired out to Clarence and a double turned into a triple sitting in a town hall conference room packed with reporters from every television and newspaper in the region awaiting confirmation of what we'd all been able to ascertain: A Continental flight from Newark, N.J., never arrived at its destination.

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