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Daughter relates horror of Flight 3407 crash

Jill Wielinski was lying on her sister’s bed watching “Grey’s Anatomy” the night of Feb. 12, 2009, when she heard a loud noise that didn’t sound right.

She was used to hearing planes fly over her parents’ Clarence Center home, which was in the flight path to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, but she had never heard anything like this.

She looked over her shoulder, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from. It sounded high up and far away from their Long Street home.

She became anxious. She had the feeling that “something was going to happen” and that the source of the noise “was going to hit something.”

When Continental Connection Flight 3407 plunged into the home seconds later, “it was very surreal,” she testified Monday at the trial of her family’s lawsuit against the airlines for her 60-year-old father’s wrongful death, pain and suffering that night as well as the family’s injuries, pain and suffering.

All 49 people on the plane died, along with Douglas Wielinski.

Jill Wielinski compared the crash to a slow-motion scene in a movie “where you see everything play out.”

She heard a big boom and saw the second-floor bedroom floor rise up and the furniture move. After the boom, she couldn’t hear anything. “It didn’t feel like it was real,” she said. “I was very disoriented.”

Realizing that something had hit the house, she felt trapped. She was leaning up against a wall near the bedroom windows, which were blown out. She saw flames near the windows and no way to get out.

Fearing she would be burned alive if she didn’t escape, she pushed out. Something moved, and a hole opened. She crawled through to the outside, looked down and saw debris.

She sat down, realizing she was alive and that her parents, Douglas and Karen Wielinski, might still be alive. She started screaming for help, in the hope that her parents would find her.

She scooted down from the second floor, then grabbed onto a white object from the twin-engine turboprop plane, possibly a propeller, before sliding down the wing to the ground. She looked up and saw the Continental logo on the plane’s tail.

The front of the house was still standing amid the flames, but the back of the house was gone, she said.

She couldn’t believe what had happened.

“I screamed bloody murder,” she told the State Supreme Court jury. “I was frantic. … I wanted to see my parents.”

At that point, she heard a woman’s voice and saw her mother, Karen Wielinski pop up out of a hole from the family room where she had been watching television with her father, Douglas Wielinski, before he went to the dining room and the plane crashed.

Her mother told her a plane had hit the house and that she didn’t know where her husband was. Jill Wielinski ran toward the middle of the house to look for her father. Her mother grabbed her arm, warning that there might be an explosion.

“Jill, you can’t go back in,” she said her mother told her. “There’s nothing we can do but hope that he got out.”

Jill ran to a neighbor’s house to seek help in looking for her father, but the doors were locked. “We’re still alive, so he has to be alive,” she told herself.

Her mother called to her to follow her as she ran through backyards to Clarence Center Road, then to Long Street, where a crowd had gathered. Karen frantically appealed for assistance for her daughter, who had collapsed, and for help in finding her husband.

“I didn’t want to move anymore,” Jill Wielinski said. “I wanted to sit there. I had no strength left.”

A neighbor came forward and took them to his home, but before they got there, Jill Wielinski ran back to her house, which was still engulfed in flames in the front. She wanted to look for her father, but her mother stopped her.

Once inside the neighbor’s home, Jill Wielinski sat on the floor in a state of shock, unable to move, as her feet bled from cuts she suffered when running barefoot in her pajamas from her home.

The neighbor’s wife put a towel under her feet before the paramedics arrived and treated her cuts and her mother’s injuries.

The neighbor also gave her some shoes for the walk to the fire hall where the ambulance was waiting to take her and her mother to the hospital, because Long Street was inaccessible.

“I didn’t want to leave without my dad,” Jill Wielinski testified, adding that her mother had to force her to walk to the fire hall. “I wanted to run back to the house and find him.

“How could we leave him behind?” she recalled thinking, amid tears. “We have to stay together.”

After she and her mother were examined and treated at the hospital, they were taken to a hotel where they showered and tried to sleep, but she couldn’t sleep, recalling the flames and wondering about what her father went through.

Although she has undergone therapy, she still has trouble sleeping and suffers panic attacks.

“I can’t enjoy life because I always think that something bad is going to happen,” she said. “I have to deal with it for the rest of my life, and I’m only in my 20s.”

The witness, who married Daniel Hohl in September 2009 and lives in Hamburg, is expected to resume her testimony today at the trial, which began Sept. 18.

Justice Frederick J. Marshall told the jury that the family’s attorneys are expected to finish their case Friday or Monday and that attorneys for Colgan Air, which owned and operated the plane; Pinnacle Airlines, its parent; and Continental Airlines, which contracted with Colgan, will need up to two weeks to present their case.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com