- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Seconds before the crash of a commuter plane that was headed down the wrong runway, the co-pilot noted it was “weird” that the Lexington, Ky., strip had no lights, according to a flight-recorder transcript released yesterday.

The runway where Comair Flight 5191 attempted to take off in the pre-dawn darkness Aug. 27 wasn’t long enough for a passenger jet.

Co-pilot James Polehinke said it was “weird with no lights,” just seconds before the sound of the impact was heard, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) transcript. The captain, Jeffrey Clay, then responded, “Yeah.”

The crash killed 49 of 50 persons on board. Mr. Polehinke, the lone survivor, lost a leg and incurred brain damage from the crash. He has told family members he remembers nothing about that morning.

Sixteen of the passengers suffered from smoke inhalation, indicating that they survived the initial impact, according to an injury report released yesterday by the NTSB.

Other passengers sustained a variety of internal and brain injuries, broken bones, amputated limbs and burns, the report said.

According to federal investigators, Mr. Clay taxied the plane onto the wrong runway before Mr. Polehinke took over the controls for takeoff from Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport.

Mr. Polehinke said, “I’ll take us to Atlanta,” and Mr. Clay responded, “Sure.”

According to the transcript, the last understandable word — “whoa” — came from Mr. Clay just a second before the crash.

It was the first time the public was given access to the transcripts of what the Comair pilots told each other in the cockpit during the ill-fated flight.

In a brief statement, Comair said, “We recognize the investigation is a long and difficult process for the families, especially when announcements — such as today’s — receive intense public scrutiny. Our desire is to learn as much as we can in order to prevent these kinds of accidents from happening again.”

Numerous lawsuits have been filed accusing Comair of negligence. However, the airline has sued Blue Grass Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration, contending they are partially responsible.

A week before the crash, the taxiways at Blue Grass were altered as part of a construction project, but the maps and charts used in the cockpits of Comair and other airlines were not updated. The FAA did notify airlines of the changes through a separate announcement.

Only one controller was on duty when the plane crashed. The veteran controller cleared the flight for takeoff, then turned away to do administrative work, officials said. He didn’t see the plane turn down the wrong runway, try to take off and then crash in flames.

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