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Tail section is to be moved by trailers from site today

The mangled remnants of the tail section of Continental Connection Flight 3407 were loaded onto flatbed trailers Wednesday as work at the Clarence Center site where the plane crashed a week ago drew to an end.

The tail -- virtually the only recognizable section of the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 -- was dismantled and put on at least two trailers. They were set to be moved out of Clarence Center sometime today.

The fact that the tail was relatively intact had allowed investigators to locate and retrieve the flight data and cockpit voice recorders within hours of the crash. Those black boxes have been providing clues to what brought down the aircraft.

With most of the plane debris and all human remains that were found now removed from the site, workers spent Wednesday getting the street back to its precrash condition.

Private crews overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation were getting ready to dig and remove soil and other debris from the house destroyed by the plane down to about eight feet, said David M. Bissonette, Clarence's coordinator of emergency services.

Workers also will remove any soil potentially contaminated by fuel or other material and take it to a landfill. In addition, they will remove several inches of soil from trampled neighboring lawns and clean the street and sidewalks.

A couple of families of the crash victims visited the site Wednesday. They arrived in their own cars but were escorted by police. Among them was the family of Douglas C. Wielinski, who was inside the house at 6038 Long St. when the plane came crashing through the roof. His wife, Karen, and daughter Jill, who were also home, survived by crawling out of the house.

Bissonette announced Wednesday that the Clarence Center neighbors whose houses are near the Flight 3407 crash site should be able to move back home this weekend -- except for the residents of a second damaged house that has been red-flagged for demolition, local officials said Wednesday morning.

The damaged house next to the crash site "is not able to be repaired," Bissonette said at a media briefing Wednesday. "So that structure, and only that structure, is not part of the relocation process."

Bissonette emphasized that the residents of that home will be able to remove their personal effects, and there's no rush to tear down the house.

Once the occupants of the roughly dozen homes return, police agencies will limit the public's access to the neighborhood for the first 48 hours, before establishing an "obvious presence" after that.

Authorities plan to walk a fine line in patrolling the area to make sure the residents don't become prisoners in their own homes while also ensuring there are no "free-for-alls" by media and curiosity seekers on their front lawns.

As the work winds down, Erie County officials announced they are keeping careful track of its costs related to the Flight 3407 disaster and expect to present them to insurers for the airlines involved.

County Attorney Cheryl A. Green quickly reached an understanding with insurance companies that the county and local governments will be reimbursed for certain expenses, County Executive Chris Collins said.

"The understanding is that the insurance companies absolutely recognize their liabilities," Collins said. "The full scope of that has not totally been determined."

Collins said it is not clear how deeply the insurers will go to compensate the governments.

He said those discussions probably will not begin for several more weeks.

County government is tracking the overtime being earned by its various personnel, particularly sheriff's deputies and the medical examiner's staff. It also is tracking expenses for supplies, like tanks of acetylene used for torches purchased soon after the crash.

Both Collins and County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz do not expect that any of the county's costs related to Flight 3407 would be too large for the government to absorb.

Representatives of Colgan Air, the subcontractor that runs Continental Airlines commuter flights, met Wednesday evening with local volunteer firefighters, state troopers and other first responders who have been working at the crash site.

Local elected officials, including Collins, also attended the meeting in Clarence High School, which was closed to the news media.

News Staff Reporters Harold McNeil, Henry L. Davis and Maki Becker contributed to this report.

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

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