Edward R. Murrow Awards
Video News Documentary Coverage
"4 the Families"
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Supporting Reports / News 4 Special: "4 The Families" (Runs 58:08)
News 4 hour special produced four days after the crash. A tribute to the 50 people killed when Continental Airline connecting Flight 3407 crashed in suburban Buffalo, NY on February 12, 2009. The documentary was produced four days after the disaster, and includes an update on the investigation, and a perspective of the impact on Western New York.
THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 3407
When Continental Airlines Flight 3407 crashed in suburban Buffalo on the night of February 12, 2009, first reports indicated a small plane had crashed on top of a house, only miles from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. That was at 10:20 p.m., with the first reports airing on News 4's 10 o'clock news broadcast. At 11 p.m. News 4's Lisa Flynn, on location near the crash site, was the first to report that the reality was far worse than first thought, that it was a commercial airliner that had crashed. Lisa had contacted a New York State Trooper standing in front of the crash site. Reporters and Photographers were initially kept away from the crash site. Western New Yorkers would soon learn that all forty nine passengers and crew members onboard were killed, as well as a man in the house.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, WIVB-TV, News 4 Buffalo, would play a leading role in reporting on the crash's impact on the victims' families and the greater community, the cause of the crash, and the investigations that followed. The families of crash victims demanded answers, and eventually played a national role in attempts to change Federal Aviation Administration regulations dealing with pilot training and airline standards on issues including pilot training and fatigue.
In the wake of the crash, it became apparent that the cockpit crew of the Q400 Bombardier Turbo Prop made serious mistakes. Colgan Air was the regional carrier under contract with Continental Airlines. Colgan initially said it provided its pilots with training above and beyond what was required by the F.A.A. Congress would later question Colgan's hiring practices and standards of operation..
News 4's aviation analysts would be among the first to point out the specific fatal errors in the cockpit. In a News 4 exclusive series of reports, Calspan test pilots took Investigative Reporter Luke Moretti and Chief Photographer Mike Mombrea fifteen thousand feet above Western New York, recreating conditions that brought down the Colgan plane. Inside a computer modified Lear jet, viewers were able to see a step-by-step in-flight simulation of the final moments before the crash. The demonstration showed that, given the right response, the crash was avoidable. News 4 had positioned five cameras inside the plane and on the ground.
National Transportation Safety Board investigations would soon determine that Capt. Marvin Renslow had lied about his failed check rides during his training as a pilot. It was further discovered that First Officer Rebecca Shaw had commuted from Washington State to begin her work day in Newark, New Jersey with little sleep. According to the cockpit voice recorder, Shaw had virtually no experience flying in icing conditions.
When the families of the crash victims learned about these deficiencies, they began a campaign for reform. News 4 Investigative Reporter Luke Moretti and Senior Correspondent Rich Newberg accompanied the families to Capitol Hill during two critical phases of hearings by the N.T.S.B., including the final "probable cause" findings of the board. Great frustration stemmed from the slow pace of change, as the one year anniversary of the crash approached. To date, the U.S. Senate has failed to take action on The Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act, already passed by the House. Senator Chuck Schumer told Newberg the F.A.A. legislation would now be a top priority in the Senate, adding that he will offer and amendment requiring co-pilots to undergo 1,500 hours of initial training for the position.
Throughout all the News 4 coverage, the sensitivities of family members were respected and honored. An hour long news special, "Flight 3407: 4 The Families, " produced four days after the crash, presented all the facts of the disaster known at that time, as well as victims' profiles. Many of the contributing anchors, reporters, photographers, and producers had worked twenty four hour shifts. While the thrust of the program was to confront the impact of the disaster, the program enabled a community in shock, to mourn together, and to celebrate the contributions of fifty people whose lives suddenly tragically ended on an icy