Comair Flight Carrying 50 Crashes in Ky.

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Sun August 27 2006, 06:21 AM
Comair Flight Carrying 50 Crashes in Ky.
Comair flight carrying 50 crashes in Ky. 1 minute ago

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A Comair flight carrying 50 people crashed a mile from Lexington's airport Sunday morning shortly after takeoff, the Federal Aviation Administration said. At least one person survived.

Comair Flight 5191, a CRJ-100 regional jet with 47 passengers and three crew members, crashed at 6:07 a.m. after taking off for Atlanta, said Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman.

There was no immediate word on what caused the crash. The plane was largely intact afterward, but there was a fire following the impact, police said at a news conference.

The University of Kentucky hospital is treating one survivor, who is in critical condition, spokesman Jay Blanton said. No other survivors have been brought to the hospital, he said.

Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were en route to the scene, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

Comair is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines based in the Cincinnati suburb of Erlanger, Ky.

The Bombardier Canadair CRJ-100 is a twin-engine aircraft that can carry up to 50 passengers, according to Delta's Web site.

The crash marks the end of what has been called the "safest period in aviation history." There has not been a major crash since Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 plunged into a residential neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., killing 265 people, including five on the ground.

On Jan. 8, 2003, an Air Midwest commuter plane crashed on takeoff at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, killing all 21 aboard.

Last December, a seaplane operated by Chalk's Ocean Airways crashed off Miami Beach when its right wing separated from the fuselage shortly after takeoff, killing the 18 passengers and two crew members. That plane, a Grumman G-73 Turbo Mallard, was built in 1947 and modified significantly in 1979.
Sun August 27 2006, 09:51 AM
49 dead in Ky. Comair crash, 1 survivor By JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated Press Writer
5 minutes ago

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A commuter jet taking off for Atlanta crashed just past the runway and burst into flames, killing 49 people before dawn Sunday and leaving the lone survivor in critical condition.


Comair Flight 5191, a CRJ-200 regional jet, crashed at 6:07 a.m., said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the plane to crash in a field just beyond Lexington's Blue Grass Airport. The plane was largely intact, and authorities said rescuers were able to get one crew members out alive, but the county coroner described a devastating fire following the impact.

"They were taking off, so I'm sure they had a lot of fuel on board," Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said. "Most of the injuries are going to be due to fire-related deaths."

"We are going to say a mass prayer before we begin the work of removing the bodies," he said.

The crash was the country's worst domestic airplane accident in nearly six years.

Lexington police spokesman Sean Lawson said investigators were looking into whether the plane had taken off from the wrong runway and discovered too late that they didn't have the length they expected. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency had no indication that terrorism was involved in any way.

Both flight recorders, which should help investigators determine what went wrong were found, Ginn said.

The three-member flight crew was experienced and had been flying that airplane for some time, said Comair President Don Bornhorst. He said the plane's maintenance was up to do. He would not speculate on what happened but said, "We are absolutely, totally committed to doing everything humanly possible to determine the cause of this accident."

In Atlanta, most of the passengers aboard that plane had planned to connect to other flights and did not have family waiting for them there, said the Rev. Harold Boyce, a volunteer chaplain at Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

One woman was there expecting her sister on the flight. The two had planned to fly together to catch an Alaskan cruise, he said.

"Naturally, she was very sad," Boyce said. "She was handling it. She was in tears."

The only survivor, believed to be the flight's first officer, according to airport director Michael Gobb, was in surgery at the University of Kentucky hospital Sunday morning.

Bornhorst identified the three crew members as Capt. Jeffrey Clay, who was hired by Comair in 1999, first officer James M. Polehinke, who was hired in 2002, and flight attendant Kelly Heyer, hired in 2004.

The plane had undergone routine maintenance as recently as Saturday, Bornhorst said. Comair purchased that plane in January 2001, and all maintenance was normal as far as the information Comair had Sunday morning, he said.

The plane had 14,500 flight hours, "consistent with aircraft of that age," Bornhorst said. Comair is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc. based in the Cincinnati suburb of Erlanger, Ky.

Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating the crash.

If the plane was on the wrong runway, it could have been shorter than the pilot expected. The main runway at Lexington's airport is 7,000 feet long, while a daytime-only, unlit general aviation runway is about 3,500 feet.

Chief Scott Lanter of the airport fire department said the crash was about a mile off the end of the shorter runway.

"We don't know which runway they were using," he said.

Blue Grass Airport had been closed to flights the previous weekend for runway repaving but reopened Aug. 20. It was closed for three hours after the crash.

Outside the terminal lobby at midmorning, Paul Richardson of Winchester had come to the airport because he believed a friend from Florida was on the plane.

"He took the earlier flight so he could get back to family," Richardson said. He said airport officials were taking friends and family on buses to the nearby hotel.

Two sheriff's deputies guarded the entrance of a nearby hotel where family members of passengers were being brought.

Rick Queen, who works for Turfway Realty in Lexington, said his father-in-law, Les Morris, was on the flight. He said Comair brought all the family members into a room at a Lexington hotel, told them the plane had crashed and family members died, then gave them an 800 phone number to call.

"This is one of the worst handled events in Lexington history," Queen said as he left.

Kelly Heyer, the flight attendant, lived in the Cincinnati area and recently had been appointed as a base representative for the flight attendant union, said Tracey Riley, a union recording secretary and fellow Comair flight attendant.

"He was a standup individual," Riley said. "He was very professional, loved the job."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush, who is spending a long weekend at his family's summer home on the Maine coast, was being briefed on the crash.

"The president was deeply saddened by the news of the plane crash in Kentucky today," she said. "His sympathies are with the many families of the victims of this tragedy."

The crash marks the end of what has been called the "safest period in aviation history" in the United States. There has not been a major crash since Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 plunged into a residential neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., killing 265 people, including five on the ground.

On Jan. 8, 2003, an Air Midwest commuter plane crashed on takeoff at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, killing all 21 aboard.

Last December, a seaplane operated by Chalk's Ocean Airways crashed off Miami Beach when its right wing separated from the fuselage shortly after takeoff, killing the 18 passengers and two crew members. That plane, a Grumman G-73 Turbo Mallard, was built in 1947 and modified significantly in 1979.

The NTSB's last record of a CRJ crash was on November 21, 2004, when a China Eastern-Yunnan Airlines Bombardier crashed shortly after takeoff. The 6 crew members and 47 passengers on the CRJ-200 were killed, and there were two fatalities on the ground.


Associated Press Writer Leslie Miller in Washington and Harry Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Mon August 28 2006, 07:45 PM
Crash Suggests Need for Safety Device in More Planes

Published: August 29, 2006
LEXINGTON, Ky., Aug. 28 "” An on-board warning system already in use in hundreds of airplanes might have prevented the crash of a commuter plane that killed 49 people after the plane took off from the wrong runway here on Sunday. But the system is not used in small commuter planes, its manufacturer said.

The warning system announces, in a mechanical voice, which runway the plane has entered. If the runway is too short for the plane, as it was in Sunday's crash of Comair Flight 5191 to Atlanta, the system announces how many feet of runway remain.

"It doesn't tell you what to do,'' said Robert T. Francis, a former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "It just makes you aware of where you are and how much runway you have left."

A preliminary investigation of the Comair crash suggests that the pilots did not know they had turned onto the shorter of two runways at Blue Grass Airport, at least not until it was too late. In recordings of communications between the crew and the control tower, the only runway mentioned is Runway 22, although the plane took off from Runway 26, which is only about half as long, said Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

As the experts tried to reconstruct what happened in the moments after Flight 5191 took off about 6:05 a.m. and appeared to strike an eight-foot metal fence, the victims' families and friends struggled to comprehend their loss.

The crash killed, among others, a Habitat for Humanity board member on his way to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a racehorse owner flying early so as not to miss his granddaughter's fourth birthday party, and a small-town couple who married Saturday night and had arisen early Sunday to start their honeymoon.

"I want to say that my heart is broken for everyone that was on that plane,'' said Amy Clay, the wife of the pilot, Jeffrey Adam Clay, who died in the crash.

Ms. Clay discounted the theory that the three-member crew may not have been well-rested, saying her 35-year-old husband, whom she described as meticulous, was in bed by 10 p.m. for the 6 a.m. flight.

"He is a man who loves to balance his checkbook because he likes to hear the ˜ding' that comes up on Quicken," she said. "He built our daughters a playhouse in the backyard and landscaped it. So this was not a man who cut corners. He was very detail-oriented."

Ms. Clay described an agonizing wait after learning that one of the two pilots had survived the crash, only to find that it had not been her husband but his co-pilot, James M. Polehinke. Mr. Polehinke, pulled from the wreckage by a Lexington police officer, was the sole survivor and remained in critical condition.

Keith Madison, a longtime baseball coach at the university, fielded calls from young men numb with disbelief over the death of their former teammate Jonathan Hooker, 27, the groom in Saturday's wedding. His bride, Scarlett Parsley, 23, was from the same town, London, Ky., and was attending graduate school to become a speech pathologist.

The two were married on the grounds of a museum in bluegrass country. The bride arrived by carriage. "I'd never seen either one of them happier," a bridesmaid, Katrina Slone, said.

Another passenger, Jeff Williams, a horse trainer at River Downs in Cincinnati, had been on his way to Texas to pursue a new job opportunity. .

Other passengers included Carole Bizzack, 64, who was to meet her sister for an Alaskan cruise, Larry Turner, 51, the director of the agricultural extension service at the University of Kentucky, and George Brunacini, 60, a prominent real estate developer who owned a horse that ran in last year's Kentucky Derby. The Habitat for Humanity member, Patrick H. Smith, 58, was on his way to Gulfport, Miss., where he and his wife had helped raise money to build 13 houses for hurricane survivors.

Mr. Francis, the former safety board officials, said the warning system, called the Runway Awareness and Alerting System, gives an errant pilot three different cues. It has been bought by Alaska Airlines, Air France, FedEx, Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines, but not by any commuter carriers, according to the manufacturer, Honeywell Aerospace. The "catalogue price" is $18,000 per plane, but many carriers pay less, a Honeywell spokesman, Bill Revis, said.

A runway warning system might be more helpful on a commuter plane than a large jet, because commuter planes sometimes operate out of airports with no air traffic controller on duty. On Sunday, one controller was in the tower at the time of the crash. Responsibility for navigating on the airfield usually rests with pilots, aviation experts say.

Elsewhere in Kentucky on Monday, a small private plane with seven aboard crashed in a remote area. No survivors were found.

Matthew Wald reported from Lexington, Ky., for this article, and Shaila Dewan from Atlanta. Brenda Goodman contributed reporting from Atlanta, Amanda VanBenschoten from Southgate, Ky., and Theo Emery fromNashville.
Mon August 28 2006, 08:00 PM
Doomed US plane directed to right runway
Email Print Normal font Large font August 29, 2006 - 6:29AM

The air traffic controller at Lexington's airport in Kentucky cleared the pilots of a commuter jet to take off on the proper runway but the plane took the wrong runway before crashing and killing all but one of the 50 people aboard, an investigator said.

"The planning discussions with air traffic controllers and the flight crew were about a takeoff from runway 22," a 2.1 km runway suited for jets at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said.

Instead, the Comair jet, bound for Atlanta, took runway 26. That runway is half as long as runway 22 and was unlit because its runway lights were out of service, Hersman said in a media briefing.

She said she did not know if the lights were lit on the longer runway. The airport's director has said the longer runway had recently undergone refurbishing.

"One of the issues that we're certainly going to be looking at is the visibility and the ability for the crew to see," Hersman said. "And also the issue of whether or not air traffic control could see."

The airport tower was staffed at the time of the accident by a lone Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller, an FAA spokesman said.

Hersman said information was being gleaned from the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.

"Both were in good condition," she said. "We have about 32 minutes from the (cockpit voice recorder)."

Preflight preparations were normal and the aircraft, a CRJ-100 made by Montreal-based Bombardier Inc, was deemed airworthy before takeoff, Hersman said.

"Finally, the takeoff roll began and the airplane continued to accelerate until the recording stops," she said.

Several teams are investigating different aspects of the crash, including visualising the situation from the pilot's vantage point, Hersman said.

"There are often issues that present themselves, whether weather or darkness or other things that could have obscured the view," she said.

"We will take all of those things into consideration and that's why we are going to attempt to simulate similar conditions at the same time of day."

The crash occurred one hour before sunrise, with the jet clipping several trees and leaving a long trail of debris.

The lone survivor was the co-pilot, who was in a critical condition. Another Comair employee was riding in the cockpit's "jump seat" and was listed as one of the 47 passengers who died, Hersman said.

The local coroner said the bodies had been removed from the burned-out fuselage and bodily fluids taken to perform toxicology tests.

"Toxicology reports are standard in accident investigations," Hersman said. "They generally look for alcohol and six illicit drugs.

"The history of the crew and the amount of rest that they get is traditionally a part of our investigation," she said.

"We generally look back at least 72 hours if not longer.

"We'll try to determine how much the rest the crew had, how much they were working, what they might have been doing in their off-duty time."

Comair is a feeder carrier for Delta Air Lines. Both are restructuring in bankruptcy.
Mon August 28 2006, 09:10 PM
Crash Probe Focuses on Use of Shorter Runway
By Richard Fausset and Alan C. Miller, Times Staff Writers
12:30 PM PDT, August 28, 2006

LEXINGTON, Ky -- The taxi route for commercial jets at Blue Grass Airport was altered a week before Comair Flight 5191 took the wrong runway and crashed, killing all but one of the 50 people aboard, the airport's director said today.

Both the old and new taxiways to reach the main commercial runway cross over the shorter general aviation runway, where the commuter jet tried to take off early Sunday, Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb told the Associated Press.

The runway repaving was completed late on the previous Sunday, one week before the crash, Gobb said.

It wasn't clear if the Comair pilots aboard Flight 5191 had been to the airport since the changes.
Plane Crash: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the airport director said that the pilot may have been confused by the taxi route being changed during a repaving project. As stated in the story, the head of a flight school made that comment. "”

"It's slightly different than it used to be," said Charlie Monette, president of Aero-Tech flight school, which is based at the airport. "Could there have been some confusion associated with that? That's certainly a possibility."

In the worst domestic aviation disaster in nearly five years, the commuter jet crashed in Sunday's predawn darkness and burst into flames. Officials investigating the accident have focused on why the jet took off from a short runway.

All 47 passengers and two of the three crew members died in a wooded area of idyllic Kentucky farmland, about half a mile off the runway. The 50-seat plane had been bound for Atlanta.

The lone survivor, first officer James M. Polehinke, was taken to the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition this morning.

A policeman who reached the burning wreckage within minutes of the crash burned his arms as he pulled the first officer from the broken cockpit, the Associated Press reported. He couldn't get to anyone else.

It was "out of a miracle" that Polehinke withstood the intense blaze fed by full fuel tanks, said Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn.

By 7 p.m. Sunday, workers had recovered 33 of the bodies, most of which were intact inside the charred fuselage. They planned to stop the recovery at nightfall and resume at 8 a.m.

Among the dead were honeymoon-bound Jon Hooker and Scarlett Parsley Hooker, who wed Saturday. He was a former University of Kentucky baseball player and former pitcher for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in North Dakota, a minor league team, according to the university. She was a graduate student at the university's College of Health Sciences.

"Jon was one of the good guys," RedHawks General Manager Josh Buchholz said in a statement.

Also on board was Pat Smith of Kentucky, a member of Habitat for Humanity's international board of directors. He was flying to Gulfport, Miss., to build homes on the storm-wrecked Gulf Coast, according to Duane Bates, a Habitat spokesman.

Larry Turner, an associate dean at the University of Kentucky who ran the school's extension program, was also aboard the flight. He grew up on a farm in Rising Sun, Ind., and had been affiliated with the extension program since 1978, the school said in a statement.

"Today, we have lost one of our best partners," university President Lee T. Todd Jr. said.

The jet was cleared for takeoff at 6:05 a.m., with a scheduled departure at 6:10 a.m. The weather was clear.

Residents near the Blue Grass Airport said their windows shook and they heard what sounded like a "clap of thunder." One man told CNN he saw "a flash of light over the hillside" followed by "a big plume of smoke."

The plane appears to have grazed the perimeter fence, then smashed into a 30-foot-high stand of trees, said Nick Bentley, a 60-year-old real estate investor and racehorse breeder who owns 115 acres of fallow farmland on the other side of the fence.

"He just clipped it," Bentley said. "He didn't miss by much."

The plane's tail, engine and fuselage broke apart during the wreck, and debris scattered several hundred feet from the runway, officials said. Two bodies were ejected.

At a news conference, Comair President Don Bornhorst said, "We are absolutely totally committed to do anything humanly possible to determine the cause of this accident." In the meantime, he said, "we cannot speculate on the cause."

Comair is a regional carrier operated by Delta Air Lines Inc. The CRJ-100 jet was manufactured by Bombardier Regional Aircraft of Toronto.

Both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder were recovered and sent to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, and analysis had begun Sunday afternoon.

Officials said the plane took off from a 3,500-foot general aviation runway that is half the width and less than half the length of the lighted and recently repaved 7,000-foot runway used for commercial flights.

NTSB member Debbie Hersman said "ground scars" "” indentations on the land "” were leading investigators to that conclusion. "The evidence that we have from the scene," she said, "indicate that this airplane lined up and took off from Runway 26," the smaller of the two.

The shorter runway may not have provided enough room for takeoff. According to Bombardier, the plane requires a runway of more than 5,000 feet when carrying a full load. Spokesman Bert Cruickshank said required runway lengths varied based on a host of factors, including plane weight, outdoor temperature and other weather conditions. Crews calculate the needs of each flight before takeoff.

A former NTSB official said investigators would try to determine if perhaps the tower had given the pilot wrong directions, the pilot had become disoriented and made a wrong turn, or the signage had not been properly restored after the runway renovation.

The airport had been closed a week earlier to repave the commercial runway, the final stage of a nearly three-year improvement project that added safety buffer space at each end of the larger runway. An airport official said the signage did not change during the construction.

Los Angeles aviation safety consultant Barry Schiff said it was almost unheard-of for a pilot to taxi down the wrong runway. Charts and signs tell the crew where they are, and a pilot would know from experience whether a runway was long enough for the plane. Even if the control tower directed the plane to an inappropriate runway, he said, one of the crew members should have noticed and radioed back.

"You had two crew members in the cockpit, both of whom had to believe they were taking off on the correct runway, which is really kind of strange," said Schiff, a captain for 34 years with TWA. "That's not the kind of mistake you'd expect a professional airline crew to make."

The FAA's Brown and a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman each said the crash did not appear to have been terrorism-related. "We don't have any information that the crash was security-related," said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.

For investigators, one of the major issues beyond the cause of the crash will be "survival factors," said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB: "Why was it that in this accident 49 of the 50 people died? Did they die on impact? Did they die because of smoke and fire? Did they attempt to exit the aircraft and couldn't get out? Was there anything that could have been done to increase the survivability in this tragedy?"

Firefighters arrived at the scene within eight minutes, officials said, and began hosing down the burning plane.

Bornhorst repeatedly referred to the accident's toll on Comair as well as on the friends and families of those killed. "I cannot tell you the emotional devastation this brings upon an airline," he said in one of his two nationally televised news conferences.

Bornhorst said Comair had purchased the jet new in January 2001. It underwent routine maintenance as recently as Saturday, he said, and had "a clean maintenance record."

The aircraft had logged 14,500 hours in the air in 12,000 landing and takeoff cycles.

Pilot Jeffrey Clay, 35, joined Comair in November 1999, was promoted to captain in 2004 and was "very familiar" with the aircraft, Bornhorst said. Polehinke, 44, had been with Comair since March 2002, and flight attendant Kelly Heyer, 27, had been with Comair since July 2004.

Bornhorst would not say whether the crew had experience flying into and out of the Blue Grass Airport. The first officer and flight attendant had been based out of New York, the pilot out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, according to the airline.

Bornhorst did say that the crew was well rested and had spent the night in Lexington in preparation for the early-morning takeoff.

Nine members of the NTSB team, which will lead the investigation, arrived in Lexington at noon Sunday. More investigators were to arrive by the end of the day.

NTSB investigators are to spend the next three to seven days in Lexington collecting information before the investigation moves back to Washington, spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said.

The accident was the country's worst domestic airplane crash in nearly five years. It ended what some have called the safest period in U.S. aviation history. "I don't think anybody would argue with that" characterization, Lopatkiewicz said.

The last major crash in the United States was in November 2001, when an American Airlines Airbus A300 plunged into a residential neighborhood near New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, killing 265 people. The most recent fatal crash of a 50-seat Bombardier airliner occurred in November 2004 in Baotou, China, killing 55 people.

Fausset reported from Lexington, Miller from Washington. Times staff writers Evelyn Larrubia and Stuart Silverstein in Los Angeles contributed to this report as did the Associated Press.

Tue August 29 2006, 05:26 AM
Looks like another pilot was confused by the runway situation at this airport, just a few days earlier:

Changes to Ky. airport eyed in crash By JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 54 minutes ago

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Recent changes to a taxiway at Blue Grass Airport may have confused the pilot of Comair Flight 5191, causing him to make the fatal decision to turn onto an unlit, too-short runway, investigators said.

The plane crashed into a grassy field and burst into flames early Sunday, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard. The only survivor, first officer James M. Polehinke, who was piloting the plane, was in critical condition.

Investigators were looking into whether the runway lights or a repaving project a week ago played any role in the pilot choosing the wrong runway. Both the old and new taxiway routes cross over the shorter runway.

"It's slightly different than it used to be," said Charlie Monette, president of Aero-Tech flight school at the airport. "Could there have been some confusion associated with that? That's certainly a possibility."

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said the cockpit voice recorder showed the pilots were talking about the absence of lights on the runway, but they didn't report it to the control tower. A light rain was falling Sunday, and it was still dark around 6 a.m. when the plane crashed.

The shorter runway at Blue Grass Airport is for daylight operation only, and its lights haven't worked since October 2001. The long runway has lights in the center, but only the ones along the side were working, according to a notice the Federal Aviation Administration sent to airlines.

All discussions between the plane and the control tower were about a takeoff from the main strip, which is 7,000 feet long, Hersman said. It was unclear whether the Comair pilots had been to the airport since the changes to the taxi route.

Air traffic controllers are not responsible for making sure pilots are on the right runway, said John Nance, a pilot and aviation analyst. "You clear him for takeoff and that's the end of it," Nance said.

The construction changes momentarily confused veteran pilot Lowell Wiley two days before the Comair crash. He nosed his plane down the same taxiway that he had taken for years until hitting a barricade.

"It was a total surprise," said Wiley, who adjusted course and got onto the correct runway. He now understands why the Comair pilot might have headed down a runway 1,500 feet too short to make a proper takeoff.

Investigators used a high truck to simulate the pilots' view of the runways and taxiways in their efforts to determine why the jet turned onto a shorter runway.

Authorities also planned to prepare a full report on the pilots, including what they did on and off duty for several days before the crash, the worst U.S. plane disaster since 2001.

Two other flights departed from Blue Grass Airport without problems, but somehow Flight 5191 ended up on the shorter runway instead "” a cracked surface about 3,500 feet long that forms an X with the main runway and is meant only for small planes. Aviation experts say the CRJ-100 would have needed 5,000 feet to get airborne.

Hersman said the NTSB has not yet interviewed the lone controller on duty at the time. Other information retrieved from the cockpit voice recorder indicates preflight preparations were "consistent with normal operations."

The FAA said a second air traffic controller would be added to the weekend overnight shifts at the airport beginning next weekend. Agency spokeswoman Laura Brown declined to give a reason for the decision.

The bodies of the 49 victims were taken to the medical examiner's office in Frankfort for autopsies. Kentucky's chief medical examiner, Dr. Tracy Corey, was uncertain how long it will take to identify all the victims. Comair had not released a passenger manifest and said it was seeking permission from victims' families to release the names.

The crash in Lexington was the deadliest in the U.S. since Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 plunged into a residential neighborhood in New York City, killing 265 people, including five on the ground.


Associated Press writers Leslie Miller in Washington, D.C., Samira Jafari and Duncan Mansfield in Lexington, Joe Biesk in Frankfort, Brett Barrouquere in Louisville and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
Tue August 29 2006, 03:23 PM
"Polehinke's (The Co-Pilot) mother, Honey Jackson, said her son is not to blame for the crash, and she asked people to be patient until all the facts were revealed."

What I gotta ask is, how the heck would she know? If all the facts haven't been revealed how would she know if the crash was his fault or not? I understand the family thing but that's a pretty dumb statement.

"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Tue August 29 2006, 10:43 PM
Murray, That is pretty out there. I have to say that Priska Zimmermann seemed to always say the right things.
Wed August 30 2006, 12:24 AM
Well, I'm happy to hear that. Frankly I can't see how it could be anything but the pilot's fault. It's not hard at all to tell what runway you're on. I'm sure you know this but runways are named by the heading they face so runway 16 faces 160 degrees on the compass, runway 09 faces 90 degrees and so on. So like I say all they'd have to do to see what runway they were on was look at the heading indicator. Reports say they were talking about how they thought it was strange the lights on the runway weren't on, wouldn't that be a clue you might be on the wrong runway?

"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Wed August 30 2006, 06:31 AM
You would certainly think so, Murray. Thanks for the explanation of why that shouldn't have happened. Reminds me of that tragedy that happened to Singapore airlines a few years back. I think that crash was blamed on pilot error if I remember correctly. Do you know the one I mean? I think the pilots survived.
Wed August 30 2006, 06:35 AM
Wed August 30 2006, 06:41 AM
Murray, Here is a new twist to the story of this recent tragedy:

Feds Admit Kentucky Airport Tower Understaffed
Controller's Back Was Turned When Jet Took Wrong Runway

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 30) - The lone air traffic controller on duty the morning Comair Flight 5191 crashed cleared the jet for takeoff, then turned his back to do some "administrative duties" as the aircraft veered down the wrong runway, a federal investigator said Tuesday.


Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged violating its own policies when it assigned only one controller to the Lexington tower.

The commuter jet struggled to get airborne and crashed in a field before daybreak Sunday, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard, after taking off from a 3,500-foot runway instead of an adjoining one that was twice as long. Experts said the plane needed at least 5,000 feet for takeoff. The sole survivor, first officer James Polehinke, was in critical condition Tuesday.

The air traffic controller had an unobstructed view of the runways and had cleared the aircraft for takeoff from the longer runway, said National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman.

Then, "he turned his back to perform administrative duties," Hersman said. "At that point, he was doing a traffic count."

The controller, whose name was not released, had been working at the Lexington airport for 17 years and was fully qualified, Hersman said.

Polehinke was flying the plane when it crashed, but it was the flight's captain, Jeffrey Clay, who taxied the aircraft onto the wrong runway, Hersman said. Clay then turned over the controls to Polehinke for takeoff, the investigator said.

Polehinke was pulled from the burning plane after the crash but has not been able to tell investigators why the pilots tried to take off from the wrong runway.

Both crew members were familiar with the Lexington airport, according to Hersman. She said Clay had been there six times in the past two years, and Polehinke had been there 10 times in the past two years _ but neither had been to the airport since a taxiway repaving project just a week earlier that had altered the taxiway route.

Earlier Tuesday, the FAA admitted it violated a policy, outlined in a November 2005 directive, requiring that control tower observations and radar approach operations be handled by separate controllers.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the controller at the Lexington airport had to do his own job _ keeping track of airplanes on the ground and in the air up to a few miles away _ as well as radar duties.

Before Hersman's briefing on Tuesday, the NTSB said Polehinke was flying the plane; it made no mention of Clay being the one who taxied the plane into position.

Polehinke's mother, Honey Jackson, said her son is not to blame for the crash, and she asked people to be patient until all the facts were revealed.

"He could die at any moment," said Jackson, a lounge singer who lives in Miami.

Jackson's boyfriend and business manager, Antonio Cruz, said the 44-year-old Polehinke was on life support, with punctured lungs and a broken pelvis. He was scheduled to have the first of many operations Tuesday, Cruz said.

"Nobody can say for sure yet if he'll be able to recover," Cruz said.

Federal officials are looking into whether runway lights or a repaving project a week before the crash confused the crew into turning onto the wrong runway.

On Monday night, investigators used the same model of aircraft that crashed, a CRJ-100, to try to recreate the last few minutes of Flight 5191 as it taxied away from Blue Grass Airport's terminal.

Polehinke had a clean record as a pilot, with no accidents or mistakes, authorities said.

Polehinke spent five years _ from 1997 to 2002 _ flying short-range, twin-engine planes for Florida-based Gulfstream International Airlines. He flew at small airports all over Florida and the Bahamas, starting as a first officer and getting promoted to captain in 2000.

Tom Herfort, director of operations for Gulfstream, was a pilot for the company at the same time as Polehinke. He recalled no problems with his colleague.

"You know who's got the good reputation and who doesn't. I didn't hear anything bad about the guy," Herfort said. "As far as I know, he was a good captain for us."

Jackson said newspaper reports about her son were lies, but Cruz confirmed newspaper reports that Polehinke's wife, Ida, shot him in the abdomen with a handgun in 1999. Polehinke said the shooting was an accident, but his wife told police she shot Polehinke because she feared for her life after her husband threatened to kill her, The Miami Herald reported.

Polehinke declined to press charges, and Cruz said the couple had resolved their problems.

"They have overcome it, and they are working it out," he said. "It is a good relationship. They were supposed to travel to Italy or something, just the two of them."

Associated Press writers Leslie Miller in Washington; Bruce Schreiner in Louisville; and Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., contributed to this report.

08-30-06 02:11 EDT
Wed August 30 2006, 09:50 AM
Yup, I remember reading about that.

I can see how that one happened, the runways ran the same way so they wouldn't have been able to tell using their heading indictor.

"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Wed August 30 2006, 11:35 PM
Looks like the controller only had 2 hours of sleep:

Kentucky controller slept only 2 hours By JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated Press Writer
4 minutes ago

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The lone air traffic controller on duty the morning Comair Flight 5191 crashed had only two hours of sleep before starting work on the overnight shift, a federal investigator said Wednesday.


National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said the controller had only nine hours off between work shifts Saturday. That was just enough to meet federal rules, which require a minimum of eight hours off between shifts, Hersman said.

"He advised our team that he got approximately two hours of sleep," Hersman said.

The controller, a 17-year veteran whose name has not been released publicly, worked from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. He came back to work at 11:30 p.m. on the same day to begin an eight-hour overnight shift.

The commuter jet crashed Sunday morning, in the final hours of the controller's shift, while trying to take off from Blue Grass Airport.

Hersman said the NTSB planned to examine the controller's schedule in the days leading up to the crash.

Federal officials have been looking for explanations why Flight 5191 mistakenly tried to take off from a runway that was too short, crashing in a nearby field and killing 49 of 50 people on board.

The news conference Wednesday night was the final NTSB briefing in Lexington, but it could take up to a year before the investigation is concluded, Hersman said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said the air traffic controller union approved the work schedule rules, and the FAA provides information about how to avoid fatigue.

"If they don't believe they're fit for duty, they're supposed to tell us that," Brown said. "You won't be penalized for not reporting for work."

The crash threw a spotlight on another practice aviation experts say goes on around the country: Small regional airports are sometimes manned by a single air traffic controller, even though federal rules require two.

The FAA has directed Blue Grass Airport and others like it to staff their towers with at least two controllers. But the FAA has acknowledged that only one was working Sunday in Lexington during the crash.

In a policy outlined in a directive last November, the FAA said two controllers must be on duty for all shifts at any airport that handles both control tower observations and radar operations.

But Ken Spirito, director of a regional airport in Peoria, Ill., said it is common for some late-night and early morning shifts to be staffed with only one controller. Someone may call in sick or take a vacation, and the FAA usually decides to keep the airport open, he said.

"The mandate that is issued by FAA is only as good as the staffing levels at that particular tower," Spirito said.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said that at the time of the accident, there were only two other towers "” in Duluth, Minn., and Fargo, N.D. "” that were not following the policy to staff with two controllers.

"We have clarified the guidance for them," Brown said.

She said staffing was adjusted at four other towers earlier this month, before the Comair crash. "This is an issue we've been looking at," she said.

Scott Zoeckler, who worked as a controller at Blue Grass for 25 years before retiring in 2004, said the overnight and early morning shifts were usually manned by only one person.

On Sunday, the controller on duty at the Lexington airport had turned his back to perform some "administrative duties" when the plane veered onto the wrong runway, investigators said.

The first officer, James Polehinke, remained hospitalized Wednesday in critical condition.

Jed Doty, a Louisville flight instructor who also flew briefly for Comair last year, said it is the pilot's duty to get on the right runway.

"It's your responsibility to immediately speak up because, especially in busy airports, you can get in some pretty bad situations pretty quickly," Doty said.

On Wednesday, six tour buses took the victims' families to the crash site for the first time. The airport also established a memorial in a parking lot, featuring a banner reading "Remembering 5191" with pens for people to write messages.

Law firms lined up to represent family members who want to sue for negligence. One Fort Worth, Texas, firm published a full-page ad in Wednesday's Lexington Herald-Leader promising families it would seek "the greatest amount of damages allowed by law."

Comair offered to pay $25,000 per passenger to each family who lost a loved one.

"We understand that no monetary relief can overcome the grief of losing a loved one," Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said. "But we also recognize there likely will be additional financial demands at this difficult time, and we hope this form of assistance can help alleviate some of the immediate financial pressures."

Marx would not say how many families had requested the payment, which she said "in no way prejudices their right to any claim they may have under the applicable law."


Associated Press writers Dylan T. Lovan and Bruce Schreiner in Louisville; Elizabeth Dunbar in Lexington; Leslie Miller in Washington; and Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., contributed to this report.
Wed August 30 2006, 11:46 PM
"You won't be penalized for not reporting for work."

That's the funniest thing I've read in a while.

Maybe not "officially" but you can bet unofficially they'd be punished.

"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Thu August 31 2006, 06:09 AM
Murray, That is absurd.

Thu August 31 2006, 06:10 AM
Error in Comair crash fairly common
By Alan Levin, USA TODAY
The pilots of Comair Flight 5191, who tried to take off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Ky., early Sunday, were repeating a common error, according to government databases and aviation experts.
The CRJ-100 burst into flames and 49 of the 50 people died after the jet sped off a short runway reserved for small private planes. Jets are supposed to use a nearby 7,003-foot runway that is twice the length of the smaller one.

Pilots report that in some cases it is easy to mistake one runway for another, especially at night or in poor weather. Aviation incident databases include hundreds of cases of pilots attempting to land or take off on the wrong runways.

Most often such mistakes are caught well before an accident occurs. In rare instances they have caused accidents. And the related risk of planes that stray into the paths of other planes on runways is considered one of the top aviation risks in the country.

AIRCRAFT SAFETY: Small, regional jets among the safest

"It's not the first time it's happened," said John Cox, a retired airline pilot who now works as a safety consultant.

On Oct. 31 in Taiwan, a Singapore Airlines jet tried to take off on a runway closed for construction. The jet broke apart after hitting construction equipment, killing 82 of the 179 people aboard.

The pilots of a small jet said that in November 1993 they nearly tried to take off on the same runway in Lexington where the accident occurred, according to a NASA report.

The pilots realized their mistake as an air traffic controller radioed a warning, the report said. The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System does not identify the airline.

In many instances, jets traveling down the wrong runway are still able to take off.

"There are a lot (of planes) that actually do make wrong-runway takeoffs and just make it," says John Purvis, former chief accident investigator for Boeing.

"Black box" data

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Sunday evening that preliminary data from the jet's two "black box" recorders indicated that the pilots had attempted to take off from runway 26.

They had apparently been instructed by a controller to take off from runway 22, which is nearby. NTSB board member Debbie Hersman said the only instructions the pilots received were for the longer runway.

The route to the proper runway would have taken the pilots directly past the shorter strip. That runway, which the airport describes as narrow and "severely cracked," is 3,500 feet long. That is too short for a CRJ-100 to gather enough speed to lift off, according to Bombardier, the jet's manufacturer.

The jet knocked out an airport fence, skimmed over the adjacent rolling fields and broke apart. Jet fuel from the plane's wings touched off an intense blaze, which caused most of the fatalities, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said.

NTSB investigators will take at least a year to determine what happened in the darkness at Blue Grass Airport. They will examine such issues as the amount of rest the pilots got the night before, the communication between the controller and the pilots, the runway markings and the airport lighting.

Recent problems with runway lights at the airport could have caused confusion. The smaller runway is not supposed to be lit at night, according to an airport guide. Normally, the longer runway's bright lights would make it easily distinguishable from the smaller runway.

However, most of the lights on the longer of the two runways had been inoperable until early Saturday and pilots had been notified of the outage, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said. Brown declined to comment on the accident.

Capt. Terry McVenes, safety chief with the Air Line Pilots Association, said his union has long called for better signs and lights to help pilots avoid making wrong turns. "We think it's very important," said McVenes. "For $8 a gallon for paint, you can solve a lot of problems."

Similar incidents

A USA TODAY review of accidents and incidents in NTSB, FAA and NASA databases found hundreds of cases of pilots trying to take off or land on improper runways since the 1980s.

Among the examples:

"¢ On Jan. 25, 2002, a China Airlines Airbus A-340 took off from a taxiway in Anchorage. The pilots averted tragedy by lifting off nearly 1,000 feet sooner than normal. The jet's tires struck a snow bank at the end of the taxiway, but the plane was not damaged.

"¢ On Nov. 22, 1994, two people in a small charter plane were killed when they struck a TWA Boeing MD-80 on a runway at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The NTSB found that the pilots of the small plane had attempted to take off on the wrong runway. The crash prompted changes in the way controllers and pilots communicate about runways.

"¢ On Dec. 23, 1995, a Delta MD-80 took off from the wrong runway at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. "Investigation has revealed a number of wrong runway departures" in Cleveland, an FAA report said. Cleveland has since redesigned that area of the airport.

"¢ In January and March 1989, two airline jets took off from the same closed runway at Houston's William P. Hobby Airport. In both cases the jets struck construction equipment but did not crash.

Posted 8/27/2006 4:16 PM ET
Fri September 01 2006, 06:08 AM
Cockpit device might have prevented crash

By Duncan Mansfield
Associated Press

A cockpit warning system used by only a few commercial airlines might have prevented the deadly Comair jet crash last weekend if the plane had been equipped with the $18,000 piece of technology, a former top federal safety official says.

"To have 49 people burned up in a crash that is totally preventable is one of the worst things I have ever seen, and I've seen almost everything in aviation," said Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

In Sunday's accident, a commuter jet at Lexington's airport struggled to get airborne and crashed after it made a wrong turn and took off from a runway that was too short. The lone survivor was the first officer, James Polehinke, whose condition was upgraded Thursday from critical to serious at the University of Kentucky Hospital.

A Runway Awareness and Advisory System made by Phoenix-based Honeywell Aerospace uses a mechanical voice to identify the runway by number before takeoff and warns pilots if the runway is too short for their plane.

The system, which can pinpoint a plane's location using global-positioning systems, also alerts pilots if they are trying to take off from a taxiway instead of a runway.

The software program - an enhancement to Honeywell's widely used ground proximity warning system that alerts pilots to mountain peaks ahead - costs about $18,000 a plane. It was developed in response to Federal Aviation Administration concerns over runway accidents and close calls.

While other vendors may offer similar systems, Honeywell's is the only one certified by the FAA, company spokesman Bill Reavis said. The FAA certified Honeywell's system in 2003 but did not require its use.

"We are always looking at new technology," FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said. "I know Honeywell has the system, but I don't know where it is" in the review process.

About 600 commercial and business-class aircraft worldwide have the device, and the company has orders for 700 more.

The FAA says there are about 8,000 planes in the U.S. fleet - about half of them large commercial airliners.

Only Alaska Airlines, Air France, FedEx, Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines have ordered the system for their planes, Reavis said. No commuter airlines have the warning device.

"This is a piece of equipment that could have saved 49 people from being burned to death," Hall said. "But because of the economic interest of the aviation industry," is it is used in only a few planes.

Hall was NTSB chairman from 1994 to 2001 and is now an aviation consultant. He spoke with the Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn. He said he has no business relationship with Honeywell.

NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm said the agency has recommended on-board warning systems that would give "immediate warnings of probable collisions or incursions directly to the flight crews," but hasn't specified the technology.

Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said that 118 of the carrier's 168 airplanes have global-positioning-system navigational aids in their cockpits already - including doomed Comair Flight 5191 - that would let pilots know their location both in the air and on the ground. But they do not have the mechanical-voice warning system.

"It is also part of our standard operating procedure to review all pertinent flight information prior to takeoff," she said.

The rest of Comair's fleet will be outfitted with GPS by 2007, and the airline will look at other safety measures as well, she said.

Dave Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, refused to discuss the merits of the system while the Comair crash is still under investigation.

Jerry Skinner, a Cincinnati lawyer who has represented families of victims in several airline crashes and has used Hall as a consultant, said the airlines made a cost-benefit decision: "The technology would cost money, and most airlines are not ready to put in that stuff."

Comair 5191 was cleared by the control tower to take off from a 7,000-foot runway, but instead turned onto a 3,500-foot strip of cracked pavement used by small planes.

Hall said he could only speculate why a veteran flight crew familiar with the airport didn't see from their compass or airport reference map that they were on the wrong runway.

Among other things, investigators are looking at the runway lights, markings and a repaving project a week before the crash that changed the taxiway patterns at the Lexington airport.

Heartbreaking as always, for family members to read about the way the tragedy could have been prevented. I know personally, that was hard to take. And sometimes the solutions are so simple and not even costly.
Fri September 01 2006, 09:10 PM
September 1, 2006
Lawyers representing the family of one of the victims in Sunday's Comair commuter jet crash in Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the airline on Friday, alleging negligence.

The lawsuit, filed in Fayette Circuit Court in Kentucky, also names Comair Aircraft and Comair Services. Attorneys filed the suit on behalf of the family of Rebecca Adams, 47, of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, who died in the crash.

The Comair jet, a CRJ-100, crashed early on Sunday shortly after takeoff from Lexington's Blue Grass Airport. Of the 50 people on board, only the co-pilot survived.

Flight 5191 was headed for Atlanta when it apparently ran off the end of an unlit runway designed for smaller planes.

The suit says negligence by Comair employees is to blame for the crash. Among other things, the staff failed to gain sufficient altitude after departing the runway to avoid obstructions and improperly attempted to take off from a runway that was of insufficient length, the suit says.

The court filing did not specify the damages sought. A Comair spokeswoman said the airline could not comment on pending litigation.

Clifford and a second law firm, Wombles and Wadlington, also field a notice against the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Airport Corporation and its board of directors that they may be liable for damages paid to the family.

The attorneys also filed a complaint against the Commonwealth of Kentucky and issued a motion to preserve all evidence.

Sat September 02 2006, 05:24 AM
Family sues over deadly Comair crash

By JEFFREY MCMURRAY, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 1, 4:59 PM ET

The family of a woman killed when Comair Flight 5191 took off on the wrong runway and crashed in flames sued the airline Friday, blaming it for the nation's deadliest airplane disaster in five years.

The lawsuit accuses Comair of negligence and says passenger Rebecca L. Adams suffered "conscious pain and suffering" when the plane went down Sunday morning and quickly burned with 49 people still inside.

The only survivor was the co-pilot, who remained hospitalized Friday but was upgraded from critical to serious condition.

The regional jet had left the gate before dawn with 50 people aboard. The pilots mistakenly turned onto the wrong runway, one too short for the twin-engine plane, and tried to take off. The plane crashed in a field just beyond Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.

The crash "could not have happened if those having control of the instrumentality had not been negligent," attorney Bobby Wombles of Lexington said in the lawsuit.

Adams' son, Joshua Isaac Adams, said the family was pursuing legal action "so that we can one day have the answers we need."

The action needed to be taken immediately to make the family a full part of the investigation, giving it power to subpoena witnesses who also are being questioned by federal investigators, said another of the family's lawyers, Robert Clifford of Chicago. Other families also have contacted his firm, he said at a Lexington news conference.

Nick Miller, a Comair spokesman, said he couldn't comment on pending litigation.

"Comair extends its heartfelt sympathy to everyone affected by the accident and our focus remains addressing the needs of family and loved ones in cooperating with the investigative process," Miller said.

Earlier this week, a Texas law firm ran a full-page ad in the Lexington Herald-Leader promising to get maximum damages for the families of victims who hired it.

Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc., operates 850 flights to 108 cities daily. Both airlines filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

The Lexington airport board met in a private session Friday morning to discuss "proposed litigation" against it as well. Michael Gobb, the airport director, said at least one family of the victims had told the airport it intends sue.

Federal officials have been looking into how the plane ended up on the 3,500-foot-long runway, the shortest of two runways at the Lexington airport and meant only for small planes.

The taxiway to the 7,000-foot-long main runway had been altered by repaving one week before the crash.

In addition, only one air traffic controller was in the tower. The controller had had only two hours of sleep before starting work and had turned his back to do administrative work as the plane headed down the runway, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA has since added a second controller.

Nearly a week after the crash, the first funerals began for the victims.

Clark and Bobbie Sue Benton had boarded Flight 5191 for a trip to the Caribbean and vacation. They were buried Friday near Stanford in south-central Kentucky.

"We're asking difficult questions," the Rev. Wayne Galloway said at their funeral, attended by more than 300 people at Calvary Hill Baptist Church. "Why? Why do bad things happen to good people."

Another memorial service was planned Friday in Lexington for Larry Turner, who oversaw the University of Kentucky's extension service.