The Families of Continental Flight 3407 invited Western New Yorkers to join them in Clarence Center Wednesday night as they mark the fifth anniversary of the 2009 crash that claimed 51 lives.
Family members will gather for a candlelight vigil near the crash site on Long Street at 10 p.m. Preceding the vigil will be an 8 p.m. memorial service at Zion Lutheran Church in Clarence Center.
For Jennifer West, who lost her husband Ernie in the crash, Wednesday night marked a turning of the page.
"All these years I've been doing it for Ernie, my husband, because I couldn't be there for him when it crashed, so I thought I have to be there every year. But then, it just hit me. I thought, he wouldn't want me doing that to myself every year. He was a happy, funny, jokey guy. I think there's no way he would want me putting myself through that every year," West told WBFO News.
West says her 7-year-old daughter Summer would not attend Wednesday's memorial.
"I don't want to keep talking about he died. I want to talk about how he lived. I shield her from that part of it. She's never gone to a vigil," West says. "I just want to keep her innocent. I don't want her to even know what day it is today."
Karen Eckert, who lost her sister Beverly Eckert in the tragedy five years ago, says the vigils have provided healing moments for herself and other family members
"We're also very, very reflective and thankful for the support of everyone, from the Western New York community to Washington, our friends, our family for just incredible support and comfort through these five years. It really has made a difference," Eckert says.
The investigation following the 2009 tragedy revealed the safety shortcomings that prevail throughout the regional airline industry. The Families of Continental Flight 3407 has emerged as a major lobbying force in Washington, pushing for major changes to safety guidelines in the commercial aviation industry.
While West says this will be her last vigil marking the anniversary of the crash, she will continue to join fellow family members in the ongoing fight.
Western New York Congressman Brian Higgins says the families of Flight 3407 have "left an extraordinary legacy" in their battle for new pilot safety regulations.
"They were tenacious and cohesive, articulate," said Higgins.
Higgins praises the family members who worked with both the House and Senate to convince the FAA to change one level of safety standards for pilots.
'Their efforts have benefited the Western New York community and the flying public generally," said Higgins.