Forty-nine people reportedly died when an aircraft identified as a Continental Airlines flight crashed into a house in Clarence Center shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, setting off a huge fire that poured thick smoke throughout the hamlet.
Unconfirmed reports from a source at Buffalo Niagara International Airport said that the dead included 44 passengers, four crew members and a person on the ground.
A nurse at Erie County Medical Center said the hospital's second shift had been told to stay late to treat survivors but was sent home before midnight.
"There were no souls to bring in and treat," the nurse said.
Crew members aboard the flight from Newark Airport had reported mechanical problems as they approached Buffalo.
Television reports said the crash site was 6050 Long St., not far from the Clarence Center Fire Hall on Clarence Center Road. Police said that one man was in the residence at the time of the crash.
Chris Kausner, of Clarence, whose sister Ellyce was aboard the flight, told The Buffalo News that after he heard about the crash, he called another sister who had gone to pick her up at the airport to see if her plane had landed.
"She said that they told them the plane had landed and was taxiing, but that was not the case," he said.
Kausner said Ellyce was a law student at Florida Coastal University in Jacksonville and was coming home to visit.
Buffalo News Staff Photographer Harry Scull Jr., who lives in Clarence, said he heard a fire alarm at 10:20 p.m.
"Thirty seconds later, the phone rang, and I knew it was something big," he said. "It was my neighbor. He said a plane hit a house, look out your window. I'm two miles from there, and it was a ball of fire."
Scull said he went to Long Street to take pictures and found a chaotic scene as firefighters attempted to run hoses to fight the flames.
Scull noted that after dark, he has noticed that incoming flights pass lower overhead.
"It scares you, they come in so low," Scull said. "You can smell the jet fuel burning. I knew it was just a matter of time."
e-mail: News Staff Reporters T.J. Pignataro, Harold McNeil, Sharon Linstedt, and Staff Photographers Harry Scull Jr. and Bill Wippert contributed to this report.