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Buffalo crash victims' families want answers

Relatives of victims of the deadly February plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y., watched a hearing Tuesday, but in many cases the answers they received provided little comfort.
Plane Into Home
Scott Maurer, whose daughter was killed in the Continental Connection flight that crashed near Buffalo, was among those attending Tuesday's hearing at the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C. Alex Brandon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ruthann Stilwell tried to prepare herself, but hearing about the final two minutes of her sister's life aboard Continental Connection Flight 3407 still hurt.

"The emotions have never stopped," Stilwell said Tuesday, tears brimming during a break from the National Transportation Safety Board's public hearing into the Feb. 12 crash near Buffalo.

Stilwell, whose sister Mary Abraham, was killed on the Newark, N.J., to Buffalo flight, was among about two dozen relatives and friends of passengers who gathered to watch a Continental-arranged simulcast of the Washington hearing.

"The beginning animation was stomach-turning," she said, referring to a re-creation of the flight's final moments before it plunged into a house five miles short of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. "I know they said it was two minutes but it seemed long."

Relatives said they came with questions, though in many cases the answers provided little comfort.

'Livid' about pilot training
Testimony pointing to pilot shortcomings left Karen Kuwik "livid." The retired teacher said she taught every child the way she would have wanted her own child taught and said the airline should have practiced the same philosophy, hiring pilots they would want safeguarding their own families.

"I just can't understand why they wouldn't put the best in those cockpits. If their loved ones were flying on those planes, wouldn't they want the best captain they could get?" she asked.

"I guess that's the hardest part," said Kuwik, whose son Kevin's girlfriend, Lorin Maurer, was on her way to Buffalo for a family wedding.

Airlines are required to show such hearings in the cities where downed flights originate and are bound for. Another simulcast was shown in Elizabeth, N.J.

Maurer's father, Scott Maurer, was among several relatives who traveled to Washington to watch the hearings in person.

"Anything short of a time machine being built, I don't get my daughter back," he said by phone from Washington on the eve of the three-day hearing's start. "It's a huge hole in our lives. But our daughter would be saying, 'Dad, don't let this happen to somebody else.'"

Families meet congressional staffers
Maurer and others spent Monday meeting with congressional staffers with the hope of hastening improvements in aviation safety.

But in Buffalo on Tuesday, "the word is why," said Denise Hillery, whose sister, Mary Pettys, died on 3407. "They were so close to the airport."

Hillery was frustrated with the pilots' apparent lack of experience — and that it was unknown to the public.

"As passengers, we should know these things," she said. "If he had done the right thing at the right moment, they'd all be here today."