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Removal of plane is expected by Wednesday

Crews have removed about 50 percent of Continental Connection Flight 3407 from the crash site, Steven R. Chealander of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

"We're putting it in bins and on trailers and getting it prepared to move to other locations," he said.

"The goal is to have everything off the site by Wednesday afternoon. I mentioned the snowstorm that is coming into the Buffalo area, so it is our goal to have the accident site cleaned up and then progress to moving it to a location still to be determined."

Chealander's news conference was the last in a series of daily briefings the federal agency has given since arriving in the Buffalo area Friday.

Investigators are continuing to analyze information from the flight data recorder as they try to determine what caused the 55,000-pound, twin-engine turboprop aircraft to crash on a house in Clarence Center at 10:20 Thursday night.

Chealander said that it could take a year before the agency releases its final report on the cause of the crash that killed 50 people. Weather conditions continue to be one area of inquiry.

Another Continental Connection flight, also a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, departed Newark, N.J., for Buffalo 27 minutes after the ill-fated Flight 3407, he said.

"It came in, experienced the same icing conditions -- moderate icing -- and it made it to destination in Buffalo," he said.

During the next few weeks, the agency hopes to learn more about Thursday night's flying conditions from other pilots. A questionnaire will be sent to every pilot who was in the vicinity that night, Chealander said.

"We want to ask them what icing they experienced, what the flight conditions were and so forth," he said.

The only report indicating severe icing that the NTSB is aware of now is from a pilot who flew in the Dunkirk area, "well south of Buffalo," Chealander said.

Chealander said crews found five of the plane's six de-icing valves at the crash site. That is important because investigators know that the de-icing system was activated. Recovering the valves will help them determine whether the system was working, Chealander said.

The agency has previously said the plane was on autopilot for a portion of the flight. Bombardier, the manufacturer, recommends that in "severe" icing conditions, autopilot be disengaged so the pilot can correct for weather conditions more efficiently, Chealander said.

A black box from Flight 3407 showed that the crew reported there was "significant" icing on the night the plane crashed. But "significant" icing is not a technical term, Chealander has said. Icing is listed as either slight, moderate or serious.

Other areas of inquiry include the crew's activities before and during the flight, Chealander said.

He also said the plane's engines have been moved to the road by the crash scene for further inspection. They were to be put on a truck for departure from the site today.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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