February 12 will mark the 10th anniversary of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Clarence Center. The plane slammed into a house on Long Street, killing 49 onboard the aircraft and one man inside his home. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley covered that tragic night and speaks with a family member who lost her husband.
"I want to remember how Ernie lived, not how he died - or the way died - or when he died – I just want to remember how he lived,” said Jennifer West.
West lost her husband Ernie ten years ago in the crash, but she no longer attends the annual memorial services. While West supports the Flight 3407 family members, who need to be at the memorial site each February 12th, for her, returning to Long Street is not where she wants to relive the memory of her husband.
“You know – I had an epiphany about five years ago that Ernie, my husband, would not want me to be depressed and to dwell and to just put myself in that state, especially when we have, you know, this beautiful little girl I’m trying to raise,” West recalled. “He was like the funniest guy and he would be the first to tell me, ‘Why are you going out in the cold and doing all that?’ And to each his own – I’m not knocking anyone who does that because we all grieve differently. But in my case, I was doing it because I felt almost an obligation to honor him. But then I realized we honor him every day just by living daily life to the fullest and raising a happy little girl, and enjoying every day. And he’s not at the crash site – he’s in our hearts, he’s in our mind, in our home – he’s in our memories.”
But West continues to fight for flight safety. She has made repeated trips over the last decade to Washington, D.C. with other family members who have been instrumental in changing flight training hours for pilots. And now they’re working to maintain those rules.
“I’ll always be there for D.C. and legislation and to fight for that because that’s something tangible – people need to be aware that it can be taken away with different amendments, and to me that protects lives and the numbers speak for themselves. Since we passed that bill, there has not been one commercial passenger fatality from a crash,” declared West. “We’re going to have to continue this – probably forever.”
WBFO News asked West what is next on the flight safety agenda.
“Right now – the expiration was up and we are good for five years, but that doesn’t mean that people are going to try to stick amendments in to water it down. It’s pretty much a continuous fight, but it’s something that’s worth it because obviously it’s working – so if it’s not broke – don’t fix it,” West explained.
“When you travel on an airplane, how difficult is that for you?” Buckley asked.
“My feeling is that if your time is going to come, it’s going to come, regardless if you worry. I try not to worry and stress about things because, in the end, it doesn’t matter – you could be here today, gone tomorrow. So with a plane, I just got right back on. It’s a function of life – almost everybody flies and the only time I’m really worried is if I’m flying to D.C. without Summer, because I figure if it’s me and her, it’s fine, I’ll go down with her, But if I’m by myself and there’s some turbulence and it’s a February cold night, if I’m flying, then I start to get a little worried because I don’t want to leave her alone,” responded West.
“My name is Summer West. I am ten years old. My daddy loved me very much and I love him,” stated Summer West.
Over the years, West has worked hard to raise her daughter Summer in a positive manner. She’s been very upfront with her about the crash and details of what happened to her dad. The child was only two-years old when her father died. Summer is now 12.
In 2017, Summer appeared in D.C. at a Keep Flying Safe news conference where she spoke so eloquently about flight safety.
“I want the airlines to hire pilots that know what they are doing and have the best training they can get,” Summer said. “Don’t you know lives are more important than money?”
Tuesday we will hear from Karen Wielinski, whose husband Doug was killed in the Long Street home. She wrote about the tragedy in her book called "One on the Ground.”