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US investigators to examine doomed plane's recorders

Officials investigating the plane crash that killed 50 people outside of the northern US city of Buffalo are set to meet to examine flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2009 11:32 IST

Officials investigating the plane crash that killed 50 people outside of the northern US city of Buffalo are set to meet early Sunday to examine flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Steven Chealander said the review team would "start the very thorough analysis" of the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

Forensic teams on Saturday scoured the rubble for human remains and pieces of the broken-up plane searching for clues to the cause of the crash of Continental Airlines Flight 3407, which plummeted onto a house in Clarence Center late Thursday.

Investigators need three to four days to require the victims of the crash, Chealander said, adding that a team of 100 to 150 people from the FBI, local law enforcement, the medical examiner's office and fire department volunteers were working at the site.

"I know this seems as though this is going to be painstakingly slow, but unfortunately, we're not like ... a 'CSI' show on television where we can solve it all in one hour," he warned, saying delays were due to ice formations at the crash site and the intermingling of charred remains of the house and plane.

Federal investigators have suggested that ice build-up may have contributed to the crash, which killed all 49 passengers and crew, and one man in the crushed house, although his wife and daughter escaped with only minor injuries.

But Chealander said the plane had "a very sophisticated de-icing system." He added that both of the plane's engines appear to have been working normally, stressing that the NTSB has not reached a final conclusion about the cause of the crash.

The cockpit recorder and flight data recorder also showed that aerodynamic stall protection was activated on the aircraft, warning the pilot that there was not enough airflow over the wings to maintain lift, Chealander said.

"Significant ice build-up is an aerodynamic impediment. Airplanes are built with wings that are shaped a certain way and ice can change the shape," he said earlier.

Investigators said black box recordings showed the crew was concerned about the weather and low visibility due to snow and mist as they approached Buffalo.

They asked to drop to 11,000 feet, but began to see a problem with ice.

Seconds after it opened the landing gear, the plane suddenly began "a series of severe pitch and roll excursions," Chealander said.

"Then shortly after that, the crew attempted to raise the gear and flaps just before the end of the recording. And that's it from the recording that we have thus far," he added.

Chealander said that, contrary to media reports, the plane did not crash nose down.

"The airplane is lying on the ground, flat ... and orientated northeast,' opposite of the direction in which it was trying to land.

The pilot of the ill-fated plane was identified as 47-year-old Marvin Renslow, who joined Colgan Air in 2005 and had flown more than three thousand hours with the airline, a company spokesman said.

Witnesses reported an unusual loud noise coming from the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane, which crashed about five minutes before it was due to land in Buffalo, New York from Newark, New Jersey.

"We heard a very low humming sound, like a buzz. It was something I have never heard before. Then there was dead silence. After that dead silence, the whole building shook. At that point, you heard a terrifying boom, like a crash," resident Jamie Lynn Trujillo told Fox News.

Her 12-year-old daughter, Tomasita Trujillo, told AFP the plane was on fire before it crashed.

"I looked out my window and saw flames on everything except one of the wings," she said. "It sounded like something was caught (on the plane). It didn't sound right."

Despite the massive heat and wall of flames created by the crash, no other houses in the neighborhood sustained any damage, officials said.

President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the families and friends of those killed.

"Tragic events such as these remind us of the fragility of life, and the value of every single day," he said.

Controllers had desperately tried to make contact with the pilot as the plane, run by Colgan Air for Continental, approached Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, also the tourist gateway to Niagara Falls.