Kevin Kuwik, Karen Eckert, Susan Bourque and Scott Maurer
A few weeks after the Continental Flight 3407 crash outside Buffalo, N.Y., Scott Maurer, father of Lorin Maurer, sat down at his computer one Sunday morning and began to write. He wrote to every U.S. representative and senator he could find who had anything to do with aviation.
He was frustrated. After the accident, he learned his daughter's flight was not operated by Continental, but by a company he had never heard of called Colgan Air. He learned that the FAA had not implemented several of the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations which he thought might have saved her life.
He sent out 55 e-mails. No one responded.
So he reached out to colleagues and to Lorin's boyfriend, Kevin Kuwik, who was a Butler University basketball coach at the time. Kevin knew politics from his father, a former mayor in western New York, and began talking to well-connected coaches in the NCAA. One knew a staffer of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chair of the U.S. Senate Aviation Subcommittee. Another had a girlfriend who was a lobbyist in Washington. And his father had a connection to Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) office.
With the help of these contacts, they began to get traction. Dorgan agreed to meet, as did Scott's congressional representative Bob Inglis (R-SC). The meetings began to fall into place.
Enter the Eckert sisters.
Karen Eckert and Susan Eckert Bourque had witnessed their sister Beverly Eckert try to make the best of tragedy. Beverly had lost her husband, Sean Rooney, in the World Trade Center South Building and had become a leading spokesperson lobbying for the 9/11 Commission and improvements in aviation security. She was on her way to Buffalo to celebrate what would have been her husband's 58th birthday.
Then came Mike Loftus, a former Continental pilot (1987-2006). Mike had spent years flying regionals with Continental Express before jumping to the mainline. Once Continental sold off Express in 2002, he watched the company outsource more and more flights to independent carriers like Colgan, and he worried about the consequences. Mike lent an aviation expertise and an insider's perspective to the newly formed group.
Weeks after the accident, the group, along with several other family members, formed the Families of Continental Flight 3407.
Soon, an expanded group of family members became active in efforts to improve safety in the regional airline industry.
To date, the families have met with more than 80 congressional offices, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and NTSB board members. They've attended every congressional hearing about aviation, with Maurer and Loftus testifying at two of them. They have Excel charts mapping minute-to-minute schedules and messages when they visit Capitol Hill. And they've set up a secure Web site for communicating with each other.
The families maintain legislative changes are needed to improve regional airline safety and have supported the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009 [H.R. 3371], which the House passed overwhelmingly [409-11] in October 2009. The Senate hasn't yet acted on legislation the families had hoped would be signed into law before the end of 2009.
On the one-year anniversary of the crash of Flight 3407 -- Feb. 12, 2010 -- the families plan to raise awareness of their aviation reform campaign by walking from the accident site to the Buffalo airport, completing the journey that Lorin, Beverly, Madeline and the 46 others on the plane were not able to finish.
UPDATES: On Aug. 1, 2010, President Obama signed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 [H.R. 5900], a bill also lobbied for by the Families of Continental Flight 3407, that addresses some of the factors that played a role in the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407.
In addition, the Families of Continental Flight 3407 announced a "Who's REALLY Flying Your Plane?" public education initiative on Dec. 2, 2010, to raise public awareness about of the prevalence of code shares.
Family Photos and Profiles
Lorin Maurer, 30, was on her way to Buffalo to attend the wedding of the brother of her boyfriend, Kevin Kuwik. Lorin was a fund-raiser for athletics at Princeton University and was looking forward to spending Valentine's Day weekend with Kevin, who lived in another state. Lorin had sent Kevin her Continental itinerary [PDF] that shows "operated by Colgan Air for Continental Connection" in small print.In Loving Memory of Lorin Maurer
Beverly Eckert, 57, was on her way to Buffalo to celebrate her late husband's 58th birthday by awarding a scholarship to two Buffalo middle school students. Her husband died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Beverly and other 9/11 victim families had met with President Obama the week before to discuss changes in dealing with terrorism suspects.Remembering Beverly
Madeline Loftus, 24, was on her way to play in a Buffalo State College alumni hockey game. She recently started her career working at an advertising agency in New Jersey. The daughter of a former Continental pilot, she had flown Continental her whole life. This was her first time to buy her own ticket.MADdash 5k Run/Walk Message from Maddy