Image: Maddy Loftus
AP file
Former Buffalo State University student and women's ice hockey player Maddy Loftus of Parsippany, N.J., was returning to school for a visit when she was killed Thursday. staff and news service reports
updated 2/13/2009 6:30:05 PM ET 2009-02-13T23:30:05

Those killed in Thursday's commuter airplane crash included athletes and students returning home for reunions, a Sept. 11 widow on her way to a celebration and several Buffalo-area residents, according to news reports.

The commuter airplane, carrying 49 people en route to Buffalo, crashed into a home in Clarence Center about 10:20 p.m. Thursday, bursting into flames and casting a sickly glow that could be seen for miles.

Everyone on board Continental Connection Flight 3407 and a man inside the home were killed.

Among the victims was Beverly Eckert, the widow of Sean Rooney , who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Eckert was on her way to Buffalo for a family celebration. The trip was in honor of what would have been her husband's 58th birthday, the Buffalo News reported.

Alison L. Des Forges, a historian and human rights advocate who documented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, was among the dead. Considered one of the world’s leading experts on the genocide in Rwanda, Des Forges testified at 11 trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as an expert witness. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1999.

Des Forges was returning home to Buffalo after a trip to Europe, where she briefed diplomats on the situation in Rwanda and Africa’s Great Lakes region, said Emma Daly, spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. She sent an e-mail to colleagues from the airport before boarding the plane. "She was working till the end,” Daly said.

Others identified
Family members and friends identified two more women: Ellyce Kausner, a graduate of Clarence High School and Canisius College, and Maddy Loftus, a Buffalo State College graduate who lives in New Jersey, according to the Buffalo News.

Kausner was a second-year law student at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. Her sister, Laura Kausner, said Ellyce was flying home to be her nephew’s date at a kindergarten Valentine’s Day party on Friday.

Kausner was part of a group of about a half-dozen young women who had remained close friends since middle school, said one of the group, Candice Ciesla.

“Ellie was a crazy, out-there kind of girl, totally full of life,” said Candice Ciesla. “This is a huge nightmare, the most surreal thing I’ve experienced.”

Ciesla, who now lives in California, learned of Kausner’s death when she got a call from a high school friend.

“I was in the grocery store when he called and I almost fainted right there,” Ciesla said.

'I'm in shock'
A publicist said two members of jazz musician Chuck Mangione’s band were on board. Publicist Sanford Brokaw identified the band members as Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett.

Video: Victims of Flight 3407 from all walks of life “I’m in shock over the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy,” Mangione said in a statement. 

The crew members were identified as Capt. Marvin Renslow, pilot; Rebecca Shaw, first officer of the flight; and flight attendants Matilda Quintero and Donna Prisco. Another employee of the airline, Capt. Joseph Zuffoletto of New York, was on the plane but off-duty.

About 30 relatives and others who arrived at the airport in the overnight hours were escorted into a private area and then taken by bus to a senior citizens center in the neighboring town of Cheektowaga, where counselors and representatives from Continental waited to help.

Friends said Loftus was returning to Buffalo for a weekend reunion of Buffalo State women's hockey players. One friend told the Buffalo News she may have been on board with other players.

Loftus’ 22-year-old brother, Frankie Loftus, said his sister never worried about flying because their father was a pilot for Continental. He said he dropped her off at the airport Thursday.

“She was an amazing person. She loved to make everyone happy,” he said. “Everyone who met her loved her instantly."

Loftus transferred to St. Mary’s University in Minnesota after her sophomore year, Ventura said.

Loftus “was one the greatest people who ever came out of Buffalo State hockey,” said her former teammate, Carolyn Totaro. “She worked really, really hard to be where she was. Hockey was her passion, especially when it came down to competition. She was so driven to play hockey.”

Officials identified the man killed in the house as Douglas C. Wielinski, 61. Karen Wielinski, 57, and her daughter, Jill, 22, escaped from the burning home and were taken to a hospital. They were treated and released.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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