The last deadly flight of an American airliner took off from Newark Liberty International Airport without incident.
On February 12, 2009, for about an hour, Continental Connection flight 3407 crossed clear skies to get to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Then, around 22 hours, the plane operated by Colgan Air began a fateful descent.
The ice has accumulated on its windshield and wings. The twin-engine turboprop engine quaked with turbulence. He pitched and rolled, jerking violently from one side to the other. And then, he stumbled into a two-story house located in Clarence Center, New York, a few miles from his destination.
Within minutes, the 49 people on board, including a dozen from New Jersey, and a person inside the house were dead.
A decade later, the place of the accident is a memorial for both loss and triumph.
The safety issues that led to the accident prompted the family members of the victims to express their grief in the aftermath of the accident and to demand continued safety reforms in the area. Federal aviation.
"They have passed some of the best safety laws ever passed by anyone in 10 years," said Gail Dunham, executive director of the National Air Disaster Alliance and Foundation, an aviation safety advocacy group founded by survivors of the 39, plane crash and families of victims. "In the years leading up to the accident, there were seven suburban accidents and none to date."
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This experience reassures the parents of Lorin Maurer, a 30-year-old Princeton University employee who was traveling to Buffalo to attend the wedding of his boyfriend's brother on Valentine's Day.
"We miss our daughter every day," said Scott Maurer, his father. "That's why we stayed in Washington … In 10 years, without an accident, I think it works."
Scott Maurer and his wife, Terry, were among the 150 family members who came together after the crash to push for tougher standards for regional airlines. Together, they made at least 80 self-funded trips to Washington, DC, to address safety concerns about pilot training, hiring and fatigue, Maurer said.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the accident was due to a distracted captain and first officer who did not respond correctly to warnings of an imminent stall, a situation in which the speed is too low and the lift provided by the wings can not maintain the plane. in the air.
The captain, aged 47, had an irregular training record in emergency situations and had an interrupted sleep and poor quality during the 24 hours prior to the accident. The 24-year-old first officer flew from Seattle to Newark via Memphis on a night flight before boarding the cockpit.
"Anything that could go wrong was going very well," said Kevin Kuwik, Maurer's boyfriend at the time of his death.
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A year and a half after the accident, family members of the victims had managed to lobby for one of the most significant reforms to federal aviation legislation in decades.
Pilots and co-drivers must now have a 10-hour rest period based on their time of departure and the number of legs they fly. New standards for loss of control events, such as stalls, have been progressively incorporated into flight simulator pilot training. Airlines are now required to disclose to travelers whether their flight will be managed by a regional airline partner.
And perhaps most importantly, pilots and first officers must have at least 1,500 hours of flight time training to fly regional airlines. Prior to Flight 3407, the first officers needed at least 250 hours of flight experience.
"The families of accidents are not unique in 3407 to regroup and to have a lot of weight, but by far, they have been the most persistent and the most effective to solve a lot of problems," said Matt Ziemkiewicz, president of the National Air Disaster Alliance and the Foundation. "Their pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration and the airline industry forced them to do what was required."
Robert L. Sumwalt, President of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the family-sponsored reforms in Flight 3407 were the most drastic changes in aviation safety since the collision of two planes over the Grand Canyon in 1956 that had contributed to the formation of Federal Aviation. Administration.
"The Colgan accident was a decisive event," Sumwalt said.
Do not give in
A decade later, family work continues.
Every Federal Aviation Administration re-licensing bill, which sets standards for the agency, airports and airlines, is sparking a new battle to keep the victories alive. In September, the agency's advisory committee recommended relaxing the 1,500-hour flight experience rule to help airlines complain about the shortage of pilots.
The story continues under the photo gallery.
Twenty-five family members of the victims of Flight 3407 were turned back and a five-year re-enactment bill passed last year left this requirement untouched. Kuwik, assistant basketball coach at Davidson College, said the group had traveled to Washington, DC, 10 times in the past three years, to lobby for federal aviation standards for federal government officials.
"It's not that they're against security," Kuwik said. "But our work keeps them on their guard."
US Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. applauded the tenacity of the group in a statement on the tenth anniversary of the crash.
"There is no doubt in my mind that these standards have saved countless lives and reduced the number of air accidents," he said. "They should remain sacrosanct, and we will not let the airlines remove them."
The unfinished work remains as well. Families are still waiting for an electronic database at the industry level of pilot performance records. The creation of the database has been included in the initial set of security reforms to ensure that airliners have a complete pilot training record before they are hired.
The target date for the publication of the database has been delayed four times since August 2017 and is now scheduled for May.
Mike Loftus, the father of Madeline "Maddy" Loftus of Parsippany, would have been delighted to see it succeed, said his son, Frankie Loftus.
As a retired Continental Airlines pilot, Maddy's father became one of the most virulent advocates of aviation reform after the death of his 24-year-old daughter on board flight 3407 .
He died shortly after the security initiatives he lobbied for came into effect in 2010.
"I'm proud that my dad got up," said Frankie Loftus. "As a pilot, he was able to use this experience to change lives."
On Tuesday, the Loftus family will visit Maddy's grave in East Hanover. Other families will visit the scene of the accident located at 6038 Long St., in Clarence Center, where they will hold a candlelight vigil on a memorial shaped wing-shaped footbridge. # 39; air.
The bridge includes 51 stepping stones, one for each of the victims, including two pilots, two flight attendants and an unborn child.
Four of the stones are for a Bloomfield family. Two are for Gerry Niewood of Glen Ridge and Coleman Mellett of East Brunswick, both musicians of jazz trumpet player Chuck Mangione.
Mangione said, through her manager, that the deaths were too painful to talk about.
Ken Mellett said the grief over the death of his 34-year-old son consumed him 10 years later. But he finds comfort in knowing that his advocacy has made the difference.
"I was talking to one of the family members the other day and I said:" Thank goodness we did what we did and accomplished what we accomplished because at least you have the feeling that he well who came out of this tragic accident, "said Mellett." This will never replace our missing loved ones, will never replace our son, but we hope to have saved other lives. "
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