Jurors silently watched Friday morning the darkly lit video that captured the inferno where Flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center on the night of Feb. 12, 2009.
The only recognizable part of the plane in the video was the tail. The video also captured the voices of distressed neighbors, and eventually the approaching sirens of fire trucks.
But perhaps the most chilling sound on the video was the voice of Karen Wielinski, who escaped the fireball that was her home on Long Street.
“Can someone get some help for my daughter?” she asks.
Her daughter, Jill Hohl, also had escaped, and she becomes hysterical, as she waits to see if her father, Douglas, had made it out too. He did not.
As the 15-minute video played in the courtroom Friday morning, the only two survivors from the crash of Flight 3407 sat behind their team of lawyers in their civil case against the airline, watching and quietly wiping away tears and comforting one another.
At one point in the video, a woman can be heard saying, “One family got out of the house.”
At another point, someone asks, “Wielinski?”
In testimony Friday, two neighbors who heard the loud explosion the night of the crash told a jury about how they raced to the scene to check the damage, cameras in hand.
Neighbor Will Charland described standing in his front yard a little after 10 p.m. and seeing the plane fly low over his Fairlane Drive house, and then hearing an explosion, like “a lawn mower was falling from the sky.”
Then he saw a light that “lit up the clouds,” and later said it looked like the sun was rising.
“It felt like the earth shook” when the plane hit the ground, Charland said. “I doubt it did.”
Just before the crash, Charland was headed to the house across the street for a poker game. He ran into the house and told his friends he thought a plane had crashed.
He then ran back to his house, grabbed his camera, got in his car and headed west on Clarence Center Road toward where he thought the plane went down.
He parked in the parking lot of the Clarence Center Coffee Co. & Cafe and was one of the first people on the scene, getting there before emergency first responders arrived. He began filming as soon as he turned onto Long Street, and filmed for 15 minutes, producing the video that was shown to the jury Friday.
He heard panic and commotion but couldn’t see the house that had just been demolished or the plane, except for the tail.
“It didn’t look like a house,” he said. “It was a bunch of flames at that point.”
Icy rain was falling, and it was dark out, making it hard to see much.
“It was chaos,” he said. “People were panicking, screaming, trying to find loved ones.”
He told the jury he saw Hohl, huddled on the ground, with her mother trying to comfort her.
“Karen seemed very emotional, very concerned for her daughter and husband,” Charland said.
The plaintiffs also called Goodrich Street resident Samuel Merlo, who lived about two blocks from the crash site, to the stand. Merlo told the jury about how his house shook when the plane crashed, and when he got to the crash site, the heat from the flames felt like the heat that escapes when the door of a preheated oven is opened.
“I saw a giant fireball, lots of flames, lots of smoke,” Merlo said.
The Wielinski family is suing Colgan Airlines, which owned and operated the plane, as well as its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines, and Continental Airlines, which contracted with Colgan, in State Supreme Court. They are seeking compensatory damages.
Following the crash, which killed all 49 people on board, as well as Douglas Wielinski, more than 40 lawsuits were filed, but only the Wielinskis’ has not been settled.