Canadian family grapples with loss after tragic plane crash in N.Y.

An advocate for the families of the Sept. 11 attacks, a noted expert on Rwanda and a Canadian man who worked for a pharmaceutical firm are among the victims of Thursday night's commuter plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y.

Activist for 9/11 families, Rwanda expert among crash victims

Canadian Don McDonald of Fort Erie, Ont., a victim of the Feb. 12 plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., is shown in an undated family handout photo. ((Courtsey of McDonald family))
A Canadian man returning home to Fort Erie, Ont., from a business trip when his commuter flight crashed into a home just outside of Buffalo, N.Y., is being remembered as a well-loved employee and dedicated family man.

Don McDonald was among the 50 victims of the horrific plane crash on Thursday night. Other casualties included an advocate for the families of the Sept. 11 attacks and a noted expert on Rwanda.

McDonald's family confirmed that he was aboard Continental Airlines Flight 3407 when it plunged into Clarence Centre, northeast of Buffalo. But the family asked for time to grieve before speaking to the media.

McDonald was a patient supervisor with Canadian drug firm, Pharmetics Inc., where he had worked for 26 years. He leaves behind a wife and a young daughter, said company spokesman Peter Lucyshyn.

"We are all in shock over the tragic incident and our hearts and condolences go out to the family," Lucyshyn said.

McDonald was a "dedicated worker," who was well "loved by all his employees," he said.

"He gave anyone as much time as they needed for whatever problems," Lucyshyn said. "He was a nice person."

Lucyshyn said McDonald had been in New Jersey for the company, reviewing packaging equipment, and was returning to his home in the Niagara region.

Lucyshyn said that McDonald had lived in the area for more than 45 years.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has not yet confirmed that any Canadians were involved in the crash, saying that it is completing procedural steps before releasing any information.

New York Gov. David Paterson said he met Friday with a number of families of the people killed in the commuter plane crash. All 49 people on board the plane and one man on the ground were killed.

"We are aware of the great loss of life. It's very hard to speak to those family members," said Paterson.

Among the dead is Beverly Eckert, whose husband Sean Rooney was killed in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Eckert had been on her way to Buffalo to mark what would have been her late husband's 58th birthday.

Eckert was part of a small group of Sept. 11 widows, mothers, and children who became amateur lobbyists, ultimately forcing lawmakers in 2004 to pass sweeping reforms of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

'We're all connected'

Beverly Eckert, whose husband was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, listens in 2006 to emergency responder tapes from the day of the attacks. Eckert is believed to have died in Thursday night's plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y. ((Kathy Willens/Associated Press))
Another victim is author and Rwanda expert Alison Des Forges, a senior adviser for Human Rights Watch, said Paterson, who called her a "great human being."

The governor said he also met with a native of China who lost her husband on the flight. The woman, a doctor in Buffalo, has no other family in the U.S.

State officials will help speed up paperwork so that her family can travel from China to comfort her, he said.

A state trooper he spoke with lost his cousin in the crash, said Paterson, who praised the "compassion, professionalism and co-ordination" of state and federal agencies responding to the disaster.

"We're all connected and we find out how connected we are on days like this," he said.

Also on board were two members of jazz musician Chuck Mangione's band. They were identified as Gerry Niewood, who played saxophone and flute, and Coleman Mellett, who played guitar.

In a statement, Mangione said: "I'm in shock over the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy."

Terrible phone call

The brother of another woman on the flight said he heard news of the crash on the radio as he was on his way to pick up his sister.

Chris Kausner said he had to make a terrible phone call to his vacationing parents.

"My parents are in Florida and I had to call down there and tell my father what was going on ... and I'm just thinking about my mom," said Kausner.

He said his parents were devastated by the news.

"To tell you the truth, I heard my mother make a noise on the phone that I've never heard before," he said.

Family members were taken to a senior citizens centre as they arrived at the airport. Chaplains and grief counsellors were on hand.

Obama offers sympathy

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement of sympathy early Friday.

"Michelle and I are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic accident outside of Buffalo," he said. "Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones."

Obama said Friday that he had met with Eckert several days ago as part of her work advocating for the families of the Sept. 11 victims.

Continental Airlines has advised family members of those on board to call a support line at 1-800-621-3263.

The plane was headed for Buffalo Niagara International Airport from the Newark, N.J., airport near New York City.

With files from the Associated Press and Canadian Press