15 years since Continental Connection flight crashed in Erie County

Flight 3407

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Fifteen years ago, a Continental Connection flight from Newark to Buffalo crashed six miles outside of the airport, in the Erie County hamlet of Clarence Center. All 49 people on board Flight 3407, and one person on the ground, were killed.   

The crash led to sweeping airline safety reforms that have been implemented over the last decade but congress still needs to re-authorize the FAA to get the changes and other safety measures signed into law, the deadline is March 8. 

After Beverly Eckert lost her husband on 9/11, she became a fierce advocate for national security improvements. She was heading to Buffalo on Flight 3407 to hand out a scholarship in his name when the plane went down.  After her death, her sisters knew they had to become advocates for her.

“What we learned about that crash, 3407 opened up the door to a lot of things that I don’t think most travelers had any idea of,” her sister Susan told News10NBC back in 2019. 

The FAA determined the pilot and co-pilot for flight 3407 had been under-trained and over-worked. They made a series of errors when the speed of the plane got dangerously low and those errors caused the crash.

“As a group the 3407 families, I mean we knew something had to be done and we had to do it and we’ve had many fights for airline safely over the last 15 years,” Karen Eckert said on Monday.

Fights, they’ve won. Before flight 3407 went down, pilots and co-pilots needed 250 hours of flight experience, now they need 1500. Before flight 3407, pilots trained for emergency situations in a classroom, now they do it in a simulator. Before the crash, airlines had to give pilots eight hour breaks in between shifts, now they’re required to give 10 hours of rest, including 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep between shifts. 

There’s also now a pilot records data base. Air carries have to consult the database to find out about employment history, training, qualifications and drug and alcohol histories of pilots before making a hire. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the work the families of flight 3407 have done over the last decade-and-a-half on the floor of the Senate on Monday.

“Thank you families for your courage, your brilliance, your grace, you changed history of aviation, something very few can say.”

But with airlines facing major pilot shortages there has been pushback about the 1500 hour training requirement which is more than anywhere else in the world. Airlines are also looking for the FAA to allow the mandatory retirement age for pilots to move from 65 to 67. 

“We call, we email, we show up and we fight,” says Karen Eckert.  And they do it for the ones they loved. “If they had to lose their lives, at least they lost them in a way that triggered improvements in some things that really needed attention,” her sister Susan said.