Witnesses to the Buffalo-area commuter plane crash said a massive boom sent pyjama-clad neighbours into the streets Thursday night as three-storey high flames and acrid smoke filled the air.
Ryan Zang, who lives six houses down from the crash site in Clarence Center, said he was relaxing at home when he heard and felt an intense blast.
"We’re used to planes flying over our house all the time, but this one sounded extremely low. Our whole house shook and there was some type of an explosion."
Zang said he ran out onto the street with his neighbours when he heard the crash, which killed 49 people on board, including at least one Canadian, and a man on the ground.
"Pretty much every one of my neighbours was out there looking on and, you know it was 10 o'clock at night so … people were in their pyjamas."
Zang said he couldn't see any remains of the 74-seat Dash-8 Q400 among the flames.
"The explosion was so intense and the fire was so large that there really was no evidence of a plane there at all. And the house that was there was completely gone."
He said the incoming plane sounded unusual.
"It just sounded mechanically like there was something not right about the sound or the pitch of the plane flying over the house."
Jean Van Kuren, who owns a daycare in Clarence Center, said the town's fire station is across the street from the crash site and a truck was on the scene within minutes.
She said the wife and daughter of a man who was killed inside the house struck by the plane came running to the scene. It appeared they hadn't been in the house when the plane hit, said Van Kuren.
"They were coming from somebody else's house, and came up and the daughter started to scream and cry that it was her house," she said.
'The house … was an inferno'
Area resident Andrea Herberger said her son, a volunteer firefighter, ran out of their house as soon as the crash happened and has been at the scene ever since.
She said the heat and smell of the fire was too much to take.
"Flames were shooting three storeys up into the air and you couldn’t see anything and we were there about 20 minutes and … the smell was so overwhelming … we couldn’t take it anymore," she said.
"We had to come home and watched out the window for the rest of the evening."
Another neighbour, Barbara Lewis, said she thought it was a gas explosion.
"When we got down there, it was probably about 12 minutes after the plane crashed. The house … was an inferno, and a big pile of rubble ,and from our angle you couldn’t see anything of any sort of plane," she said.
Lewis said the two homes on either side of the house where the plane hit are still standing.
"The power lines in front of the house weren't even affected. Our electricity didn't even go out. The tree that was directly next to the house, it was still standing [but] completely engulfed in flame," he said.
"You know, you imagine more of a long path of devastation of a plane [that] comes down."
Brendan Biddlecom said neighbours in the tight-knit community have banded together to offer each other comfort and support.
"Everybody's on the phone, everybody's calling each other," he said.
"Things like this just put things in perspective for everybody. You realize it's things like friends and family that really matter. Everything else is really just busy work."
Biddlecom, a father of two, said the crash will have ripple effects throughout the community, adding one of the crash victims is believed to be the aunt of his son's classmate who was on her way to Clarence Centre for a Valentine's Day party.
The flight, Continental Airlines Flight 3407, was operated by regional carrier Colgan Air Inc. and was headed for Buffalo Niagara International Airport from the Newark, N.J., airport near New York City.