BUFFALO, N.Y. — The commuter plane that crashed near Buffalo was on autopilot until just before it went down in icy weather, indicating that the pilot may have ignored federal safety recommendations and violated the airline’s own policy for flying in such conditions, an investigator said Sunday.

Federal guidelines and the airline’s own instructions suggest a pilot should not engage the autopilot when flying through ice. If the ice is severe, the company that operated Continental Flight 3407 requires pilots to shut off the autopilot.

“You may be able in a manual mode to sense something sooner than the autopilot can sense it,” said Steve Chealander of the National Transportation Safety Board, which also recommends that pilots disengage the autopilot in icy conditions.

Automatic safety devices returned the aircraft to manual control just before it fell from the sky, Chealander said.

During a Sunday briefing, Chealander described the flight’s frantic last moments, which included a steep drop and rollercoaster-like pitching and rolling.

Chealander said information from the plane’s flight data recorder indicates that the plane pitched up at an angle of 31 degrees, then pitched down at 45 degrees.

The plane rolled to the left at 46 degrees, then snapped back to the right at 105 degrees _ 15 degrees beyond vertical.

Radar data shows Flight 3407 fell from 1,800 feet above sea level to 1,000 feet in five seconds, he said. Passengers and crew would have experienced G-forces up to twice as strong as on the ground.

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