University at Buffalo Expert Sources Available to Comment on Crash of Continental Flight

Release Date: February 13, 2009


UB experts are available to speak with the media on aspects of the crash of Continental Flight 3407, including ice build-up, traumatic grief counseling, the effectiveness of emergency efforts and coverage of the crash in the social media.

Contributes to Emergency Response

UB Police were called to the scene of the crash and assisted on-site security; they also assisted the Transit Police with escorting the bus carrying family members of the victims from the airport to aid center established in Cheektowaga.

A small amount of ice build-up can significantly decrease the lift force and increase the drag of an aircraft

Puneet Singla, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

University at Buffalo

Office: 716-645-2593 x2232

Cell: 716-908-8954

"Even a small amount of ice build-up can significantly decrease the lift force and increase the drag of an aircraft," said Puneet Singla, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University at Buffalo. Singla teaches flight dynamics and control at the University at Buffalo. Flight dynamics is the science of controlling position and orientation of an aircraft to ensure stable flight.

"Generally, the aircraft is getting its lift from the wings and from its speed," he said. "During landing, the pilot reduces the speed of the aircraft to its recommended stall speed." However, Dr. Singla said, if ice accumulates on the wing, then the aircraft can stall at a much higher speed. "But if the pilot does not realize that there is ice on the wing and does not take corrective action, then a normal reduction in speed can cause the aircraft to stall," he said, Stall is a sudden reduction in the lift forces generated by the wing.

"Icing can reduce the amount of lift produced by a wing by a significant amount," said Singla, "even if ice buildup is only as thick and rough as a piece of sandpaper, although it is rare. In addition, ice can accumulate on the tail of the plane and that is worse because the pilot cannot see it. If the tail has ice then the tail can stall and if that happens, the pilot can lose control of the plane."

Traumatic events can bring community together

Nancy J. Smyth

Dean, School of Social Work

University at Buffalo, SUNY

Phone: 716-868-5486


Smyth is a nationally known expert on the psychological and physical effects of trauma.

"Certainly, on one level it can bring the community together because people all around are coming to support in any way they can," says Smyth.

"The people who are responding to this may have their own struggles because it is so close to home. The other people who could be affected are those who live around the airport. It's a case of 'There but for the grace of God go I.' As well as the people and family members who fly in and out of that airport a lot. It's the idea that could have been me, or it could have been us."

"It will make some really grateful, and for others it will really raise their anxiety."

Traumatic grief counseling needed for families of victims

Steven L. Dubovsky, M.D.

Professor and Chair of Psychiatry

University at Buffalo School of Medicine (SUNY)

(716) 898-5940

Dubovsky studies post-traumatic stress in survivors and emergency responders.

This is a traumatic and stressful event for those who witnessed or were directly affected by the crash and there are many resources available to assist them should they need help, Dubovsky said. "For those who lose a loved one, the issue of traumatic grief arises, which makes recovery more complicated. It can take years to get over the persistent anger that interferes with the grieving process. Relatives and close friends of the victims could very well benefit from traumatic grief counseling to help them through this experience."

"Emergency first responders experience great physical and emotional stress but are well trained and usually do not experience emotional trauma. On the other hand, those who must recover bodies can suffer post traumatic stress, which does require counseling and other forms of assistance. A one-time critical incident stress debriefing, which commonly follows disaster recovery has been found not to be very effective in preventing post traumatic stress. However, a four to five session stress debriefing was found to be very effective in preventing post traumatic stress disorder in emergency recovery team members at ground zero following 9/11."

Fortunately, the situation did not involve a complex scenario and there appears to have been good coordination of emergency efforts

Ernest Sternberg, Ph.D.

Professor of Urban and Regional Planning

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

716-829-2133 x224; 716-639-8528


"Sounds like this was a well-contained situation that did not involve complex scenarios of the kind that often make the initial disaster even worse. We are fortunate in that regard. It didn't involve the plane hitting many homes or a school or shopping area. It did not involve an inaccessible or treacherous geographic area, and the efforts of a number of fire and police departments appear to have been well coordinated. We don't know that for sure yet – much depends upon the competence of the disaster coordinator – but there do not appear to have been problems in that regard. Resources were well allocated and planning appears to have been effective.

Social Media Coverage of the Crash

Michael Stefanone

Assistant Professor of Communication

University at Buffalo

Phone: (716) 645-2141 x1184

Cell: 817.584.4387

Stefanone studies cultural impact of social media.

"In the case of this disaster, it was clear that network and cable television relied very much on eyewitness cell phone video and photos and the reports of 'i-reporters' When everyone has the tools in hand to produce media and is in the right place at the right time, it guarantees press saturation of events like this, and that is exactly what we've seen," Stefanone says.

"Is this a good thing? It depends on your point of view."

"In this case, volunteer journalism probably benefits news consumers because stations themselves don't have the budget to cover dozens of 'reporter-witnesses' in the field. But it does mean that networks and local stations are outsourcing their work to untrained volunteers."

Media Contact Information

John DellaContrada
Vice President for University Communications
521 Capen Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260
Tel: 716-645-4094 (mobile: 716-361-3006)
Twitter: @UBNewsSource