WASHINGTON - Just seconds before the worst U.S. air crash in more than seven years, the pilot exclaimed "Jesus Christ" and moments later his first officer screamed as Flight 3407 plunged to the ground.
A cockpit voice recorder transcript released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board shows that only minutes before the Feb. 12 crash on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Captain Marvin Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw chatted about her career and shared their fear of flying in icy weather.
Moments later the Dash 8-Q400 Bombardier, a twin-engine turboprop, experienced an aerodynamic stall and plunged into a house, killing all 49 people aboard and one man on the ground.
The transcript was released as the safety board opened a three-day public hearing Tuesday into the accident. The board was expected to focus heavily on pilot training and fatigue.
As the Dash-8 approached Buffalo on a wintry night, Shaw and Renslow remarked to each other - less than seven minutes before the crash - about how much ice had formed on their wings.
"It's lots of ice," Shaw said.
"Oh yeah that's the most I've seen, most ice I've seen on the leading edges in a long time, in a while anyway I should say," Renslow replied.
Renslow then remarked that he'd flown about 625 hours in the region before he was hired for this job by Manassas, Va.-based Colgan Air.
Shaw replied, "I really wouldn't mind going through a a winter in the Northeast before I have to upgrade to captain. ... I've never seen icing conditions. I've never deiced. I've never seen any. I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I'dve freaked out. I'dve have like seen this much ice and thought, `Oh my gosh, we were going to crash.' "
"I would've been fine," Renslow replied. "I would have survived it. There wasn't, we never had to make decisions that I wouldn't have been able to make but ... now I'm more comfortable."
The crew then lowers the landing gear and adjusts the flaps, but at 10:16.26 p.m. there's a sound similar to movement of the flap handle and Shaw says, "Uhhh."
Less than a second later, there are sounds similar to the stick shaker - a warning transmitted through the control stick that the aircraft is nearing a stall. These last for 6.7 seconds. Less than a second later, a horn sounds signaling the autopilot disconnecting and that horn continues until the end of the recording.
At 10:16.34.8, Renslow says, "Jesus Christ."
Shaw says she put the flaps up and asked if she should put the landing gear up. Renslow replies: "Gear up, oh (expletive)."
As noise in the cockpit increases, Renslow adds: "We're down."
There's a thump.
Shaw: "We (sound of scream)."
And the transcript ends.
The board also released documents showing that safety investigators were told by one training instructor that Renslow "was slow learning" the Dash 8 but his abilities "picked up at the end." The training instructor said Renslow struggled to learn the Dash 8's flight management system, a critical computer.
Associated Press Writers Michael J. Sniffen in Washington, Ben Dobbin in Rochester and Rik Stevens in Albany contributed to this story.