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Dealing with a tragedy Crash of Flight 3407 touches us all, support for families must continue

The ER nurse, speaking in the age-old parlance of pilots and ship captains, said her hospital had no role to play in the aftermath of Thursday's crash of Flight 3407 because, "There were no souls to bring in and treat."

But, of course, there are.

All of the passengers and crew onboard the Continental Express aircraft died, as did one person in the home where the plane fell in Clarence Center. Only two others who were at the crash site needed medical attention. So there was nothing the skilled trauma center professionals at Erie County Medical Center could contribute.

But, in the wake of such a tragedy, in which 50 people are, without warning, taken away from their families and friends, the entire community becomes a sort of trauma center.

And that's the heart of this tragedy, the heart of all the articles in this newspaper. For this is not just an airliner crash story. It's a human story.

And the response needs to be human, especially now that the first practical response is over. In the first minutes and hours after the event, it does appear that the Buffalo community has responded well. As we should have known it would.

The people we count on to respond to such events were on the scene immediately. They included fire crews, volunteers and professional, federal, state and local law enforcement officers and emergency preparedness officials. Two planeloads of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived early Friday.

People who work for the airline and for Buffalo Niagara International Airport offered assistance to those seeking word of their loved ones, even as it quickly became apparent that the word was not good. They, too, appear to have done that as well as could be expected, although there has been little word yet -- understandably -- from the families.

Elected leaders, such as County Executive Chris Collins and Town of Clarence Supervisor Scott A. Bylewski, quickly appeared and, through the long night, took their proper roles -- explaining, reassuring and sympathizing. Gov. David A. Paterson arrived Friday morning to offer what comfort he could.

Those in positions of authority have clearly defined roles. Put out the fire. Secure the area. Help those displaced by the evacuation of the neighborhood and return them to their homes. Investigate the cause of the crash and put in place any mechanical, procedural or legal changes that might help prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

That's hard work. But it's also the easy part.

More difficult, and with no defined end, will be the job of those whose spouses, children, parents, friends and colleagues were supposed to come home Thursday, but did not.

For most passengers, the end of a commuter flight as a weekend approaches means home. Home from a vacation or a business trip or, for those who have moved away, are off at school or have family and memories here, home for a visit.

Thus it was to be expected that many of the names on the passenger manifest came with Buffalo addresses, or had other deep connections here. May those connections provide some comfort to the family and friends of the victims, even among people who were strangers before, as they come to terms with their losses.

The early hours of the response were conducted with due regard for the public's right to know. We trust that will continue to be the case. It will help those directly touched and those just concerned to understand what happened and what can be done to see that it does not happen again.

The mourning, though, will be done in ways both public and private. It will come without the relief and joy that followed the amazing survival of all those whose airplane ditched in the Hudson River some weeks ago.

The entire Buffalo community today extends its deeply felt sympathy to those who lost loved ones on Flight 3407. Knowing this community, it is a feeling that will last more than a day, or a few news cycles. It will last for as long as it takes.

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