'I thought if that's a plane, it'll hit something. Then the ceiling fell in'

Woman who survived Buffalo disaster speaks of the moment Continental airliner crashed into her home

The woman who, with her daughter, survived the terrible inferno when a commuter aircraft crashed on to her house outside Buffalo, in upstate New York, said yesterday that she had been watching TV and that, as soon as she heard the approaching aircraft outside her window, she knew it was in trouble.

"Planes do go over the house, but this one sounded really different, louder, and I thought to myself, 'If that's a plane it's going to hit something,'" explained Karen Wielinski.

Last night it emerged the plane had been on autopilot when it crashed, breaching federal safety guidelines and the airline's own policy that pilots fly manually in conditions as icy as those in the area at the time.

Mrs Wielinski's husband, Doug, had just left the sitting room for the dining room at the time of impact. He died when the aircraft struck along with all 49 people on board. For his wife and daughter, however, something close to a miracle occurred. Karen sensed disaster was near but had no time to react.

"The next thing I knew, the ceiling was on me. I didn't think I was going to get out of there. I thought, 'This is it,'" the 57-year-old told local radio.

"I was panicking a little but trying to stay cool and happened to notice a little light to the right of me. I shouted first in case anybody was out there, and then just pushed what was on me off and crawled out the hole. The back of the house was gone, the fire had started, I could see the wing of the plane and Jill was over to the side, crying of course, hysterical."

Crash investigators, meanwhile, resumed the grisly task of sifting through the wreckage of Flight 3407 yesterday as well as the Wielinski house amid new indications that the aircraft, a 74-seat turboprop, lost all aerodynamic lift.

A team of 150 investigators were at the site in Clarence Center, a suburb of Buffalo, as work began to separate the wreckage of the house from that of the aircraft. Officials said they had removed 15 bodies.

The ferocity of the fire after the crash coupled with the relatively small area of impact at first suggested the plane had nosedived into it. Now investigators believe the aircraft almost pancaked on to it.

Officials with the National Transport Safety Board, NTSB, revealed that the plane, a Dash-8 Q400 owned by Colgan Air and flying under the colours of Continental Connection, also spun round at the last moment.

While experts continued to analyse the data and voice recorders retrieved from the site, officials said it seemed clear that after pushing through mist and light snow on its way in the dark from Newark towards Buffalo the plane had lost forward motion at the time of the crash on Thursday night. The pilots had earlier discussed "significant" ice build-up on the wings and windscreen.

Two months ago, the NTSB advised pilots to fly manually in icy conditions. "You may be able in a manual mode to sense something sooner than the autopilot can sense it," said Steven Cheleander, the chief NTSB official at the site. Additionally, the black boxes confirmed that systems in the cockpit designed to warn pilots of the risk of stalling had been activated.

Mr Chealander warned against making early assumptions. He added that the work to resolve the mystery of Flight 3407 was still in the very early stages. "I know this seems as though this is going to be painstakingly slow, but unfortunately, we're not like ... a CSI show on television where we can solve it all in one hour," he warned.

The work at the crash site was made difficult because water poured over it to douse the fire after the crash had frozen by Saturday. Officials said they hoped to complete the work at the site by Wednesday before an expected snowstorm.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones