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Couple's last communication was filled with hope

It had been a playful texting between boyfriend and girlfriend -- she on a plane, he in a sports bar -- about weddings and relatives and flight times gone by.

Lorin Maurer, 30, and Kevin Kuwik, 34, had met 10 months ago, but theirs was some connection, and the wedding they would attend today could mean so much more.

She boarded the plane at 7:45 p.m., and their texting went as follows:

Maurer: "You're allowed to give [your brother] my number. I told him so. He is getting married."

Kuwik: "Hell no."

Maurer: "You e-mail with my Dad. What's the difference?"

Kuwik: "Your dad is not malicious."

Maurer: "Just sat on the plane, and your brother wouldn't be mean to me."

Kuwik: "Ha! You'll see."

Maurer: "Just now closing the main door." (7:43 p.m.)

Maurer: "Engine isn't even on. Just sitting here. ... Good thing they boarded us." (7:58)

A call from Maurer would follow: "We're 25th for takeoff and will be delayed 45 more minutes." (Call interrupted by flight attendant, who told her to turn off the phone)

"She hung up and that was the last I talked to her," said Kuwik, who would follow up with these texts:

Kuwik: "Have they said anything?" (8:02 p.m.)

Kuwik: "Bueller, Bueller, anything?"

When Kuwik arrived at the airport, the monitor showed a 10:15 p.m. arrival time. The plan was to pick Maurer up, and then drive over to Bullfeather's restaurant, a fitting way to greet Buffalo.

The time changed to 10:17, then 10:19. When the monitor indicated the plane had landed, the relief that washed over Kuwik was replaced by concern.

"Usually when she landed, she'd text or call," he said. "I called her a few times. I texted her at 10:25: "Did you land?"

At 10:45, Flight 3407 vanished from the board.

***

Karen Wielinski, whose husband, Douglas, was killed when Flight 3407 crashed into their home, said she was watching TV on her couch when she heard a strange noise. "Planes do go over our house, but this just sounded very different," she told WBEN Radio. "The next thing I knew, the ceiling was on me."

Wielinski, 53, didn't know what was going on, but she ended up finding an escape route. When she got outside, she saw that "the back of the house was gone. The fire had started, I could see the wings of the plane."

She also could see that the plane "went through the middle of the house. Unfortunately, that's where Doug was," she told WBEN.

Her daughter, Jill, 22, who had been watching TV upstairs, also escaped.

Both women were treated and released at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.
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The Clarence community rallied around the Wielinski family, who owned the Long Street home destroyed in the crash of Flight 3407. Douglas Wielinski died in the crash, but his wife, Karen, and daughter, Jill, 22, managed to escape the burning house.

"Everybody's calling to see if they can bring some things," said Erica Eichelkraut, a friend of the family.

Cards or condolences can be sent to the Wielinski family at the Clarence Post Office, General Delivery, 9845 Main St., Clarence, NY 14031.

Checks may be made out to Karen Wielinski.

"Nobody can seem to grasp the reality," Eichelkraut said.

***

Clarence Central Schools will offer counseling to students who request it, Superintendent Thomas Coseo said.

Schools were closed Friday because of the emergency, and students will be off next week for the winter break.

But if parents need help explaining the tragedy to their children, they can call the district office at 407-9102. If calling over the weekend or on President's Day on Monday, call 759-7775.

"Particularly parents of elementary children, if they need assistance, we have professional people who are willing to help out," Coseo said.

The district also posted a message to the community on its Web site, www.clarenceschools.org. It notes that many parents of district children are volunteer firefighters who responded to the crash.

The superintendent said the district will address the crash, particularly with pupils at Clarence Center Elementary School, when they return to school Feb. 23.

"We'll address the tragedy," he said. "We don't want to over-emphasize or underestimate the response."

***

Journalists weren't the only ones who told the world about the tragic saga of Flight 3407. The disaster graphically demonstrated the emerging trend of citizen journalism.

Anthony Trigilio, a 19-year-old Clarence resident, became an international media star -- at least for several hours -- after posting powerful footage from the crash site on YouTube. A short time later he started receiving dozens of calls and messages from media organizations.

"I think everyone on the planet called me," said Trigilio. "A lot of national and international [media outlets]."

Still, Trigilio said he doesn't consider himself an armchair journalist. He said he only posted the footage to let his friends know about the horrifying events that were playing out in his hometown.

***

The House of Representatives on Friday afternoon held a moment of silence to honor the victims of Flight 3407.

Lawmakers who were gathered to pass President Obama's fiscal stimulus bill stood in silence for about a minute at about 2:30.

While the congressman who represents the area of the crash -- Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence -- traveled to the scene of the accident, his two Buffalo-area colleagues took to the floor of the House just before the moment of silence to mark the tragedy.

"I know that the whole House joins . . . in offering our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those killed in this tragic event, and to offer a tremendous gratitude to the firefighters, emergency personnel and the other first responders who bravely worked through the night and are still working today to deal with this accident," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

"We suffered a terrible blow in Western New York. My heart breaks for upstate New York," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport. "The first responders and all the citizens of Western New York have rushed to help, and all the officials in Washington and all the local officials will do all we can to ease the pain."

***

Gov. David A. Paterson Friday afternoon issued an executive order declaring a state disaster emergency in Erie County, formally releasing state resources to help local agencies. Citing the "hardships continuing to affect the people of the Town of Clarence," the order also gives residents of the town until Feb. 24 to pay their local property tax bills without interest or penalties.

***

Spot Coffee is donating all the money it collects from sales between noon and 2 p.m. today and during the same hours next Saturday at its two Buffalo locations to any memorial fund set up for the plane crash victims. If no fund is established, the money will go to the Red Cross.

"We want to kick it off," said Richard Gress, CEO of Spot Coffee Buffalo. "Hopefully this will inspire other companies to get involved. It's a tight community, and this tragic event happened right in our backyard."

The coffee shops are at 227 Delaware Ave., at Chippewa Street, and at 765 Elmwood Ave., at Cleveland Avenue.

***

The crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 even had an effect on the American International College men's hockey team, according to Canisius College spokesman Jason Veniskey.

National Transportation Safety Board officials asked Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright early Friday morning if his club could switch hotels so that Hotel Indigo could be used to accommodate the family members of crash victims. American International, which started a two-game weekend series with Canisius on Friday night in the Amherst Pepsi Center, complied with the request -- packing up prior to the team's game-day skate and later checking into an area Holiday Inn.

e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com

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