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Promising careers of flight crew cut short

Iowa-born Marvin D. Renslow, the captain on Flight 3407, would have eventually returned home to his wife and two children in a sun-baked suburb of Tampa, Fla. He was about four years into a new career as a professional pilot.

First officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw would have returned to a leafy suburb of Seattle, where she and her husband of just two years were setting up a new home. She had been a pilot with Colgan Air for a little more than a year.

Matilda Quintero of Woodbridge, N.J., was new to her job as a flight attendant. She was 56, with two grown daughters and had been working for Colgan Air for about nine months.

The second flight attendant, Donna Prisco, also had been with Colgan Air for that long. She and Quintero had both started in May 2008.

Along for the ride Thursday was Joseph J. Zuffoletto, an off-duty captain for Colgan Air. The Rochester-born Zuffoletto had his pilot's license before he had his driver's license, his sister said. The airline had stationed him in Jamestown.

Those five represented Colgan Air on the Continental Connection flight that departed unremarkably from Newark Liberty International Airport after 9 p.m. Thursday, with 44 passengers aboard.

In the cockpit, Renslow and Shaw talked about icing conditions, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Other pilots later told the tower that ice had become a concern.

As the airplane approached Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Shaw's voice, in a brief exchange with air traffic controllers, seems to reveal a hint of worry. Her last transmission was at 10:16 p.m.

Soon after, the tower tried to reach her: "Colgan 3407, Buffalo tower. How do you hear?"

No response came. The airplane, known as a Dash 8, had disappeared from the radar and dived into a house in Clarence Center, leaving no survivors among the 49 passengers and crew.

Colgan's corporate owner, Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tenn., has been growing in recent years, buying airplanes, searching for more pilots and presenting itself as a rewarding place to work.

Renslow, 47, was the longest-serving crew member on Flight 3407. He joined the airline in September 2005 and had flown 3,379 hours with Colgan. If you divided that up into 40-hour work weeks, he had spent 84.5 work weeks in the air.

Before he was employed by Colgan Air, Renslow owned and ran a small business in Florida, neighbors told The Buffalo News. Records show that his first Federal Aviation Administration certifications were received in 2001. But for his public profile on a networking Web site, plaxo.com, Renslow listed his only professional flying experience as being with Colgan Air, from 2005 to present.

In October 2008, he rejoiced on the site that "Marvin Renslow is in training for a larger airplane!"

On Dec. 8 he announced: "Marvin Renslow is finished with training and now based in beautiful Newark!"

And on Dec. 27: "Marvin Renslow Freezing in Newark, but not flying enough!"

"He was just a friendly, outgoing man," said one of his neighbors in Lutz, Fla., Kathie Slawiak, who left Buffalo about 24 years ago. Renslow and his wife, Sandy, had a son who will graduate from high school this year and a daughter about 11 years old, Slawiak said.

Neighbors knew that the captain's job kept him away from home for long stretches, but they knew he was back when they'd see him walking his daughter home from her school bus.

Renslow had been a drummer at his Iowa high school, and they would hear him and his son playing the drums.

Shaw, the first officer, had graduated from Tahoma High School in Washington seven years ago. She had been involved in sports and volunteered as a camp counselor. Her family told the Associated Press that she attended Big Bend Community College and Central Washington University.

Her mother, Lynn Morris, told reporters in Washington that Shaw decided while a senior in high school that she wanted to fly, and her first FAA certification was in May 2002. She worked for the dispatching center of a local airport and as a flight instructor in Phoenix. She had 2,244 hours of flight time with Colgan Air, the equivalent of 56 work weeks in the air.

The daughters of Quintero, one of the flight attendants, are trying to reach relatives in Colombia, to relay the news of her death.

Cecilia Quintero, 21, told the Newark Star-Ledger that her mother was enjoying her job.

"She loved it," Quintero told the newspaper. "We always worried every day."

Zuffoletto had attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, one of the country's top flight schools. After graduating, he flew cargo routes and eventually became an airline pilot, said his sister, Jaime Rose of Mesa, Ariz.

Zuffoletto, 27, joined Colgan Air 10 days after Renslow did in September 2005. He recently was promoted to captain.

He rented an apartment with two friends in Jamestown, where Colgan stationed him. He would often fly into Buffalo to see his grandmother in Cheektowaga.

"He was a great kid, and I really can't believe I'm never going to see him again," Rose said.

In a sense, her brother was lucky, she said.

"Not everyone gets to do what they love for a job. It was his life, and he truly, truly loved it."

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com and mpasciak@buffnews.com

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