The National Transportation Safety Board said Flight 5191, bound for Atlanta, apparently ran off the end of an unlighted 1km runway designed for smaller planes, instead of the 2km runway suited for commercial flights.
Debbie Hersman, a safety board member and the lead investigator of this crash said “ground scars” at the end of the shorter runway, a smashed perimeter fence and debris from the jet spread out over hundreds of feet indicated the plane’s trajectory was from the shorter runway.
Communications between the pilots and air traffic controllers and other data from the plane’s “black boxes” – the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder – were being analyzed. Hersman said the quality of information investigators were able to access so far was good.
Aviation experts said the aircraft with 47 passengers and three crew could not have taken off if the pilots were unprepared for the shorter runway, which is meant for use in daylight only.
Investigators said information on the crash was preliminary and would not say if the plane was cleared for the longer runway and somehow wound up on the shorter one, or if there was an air traffic communications mix-up. An aviation source said the plane had been cleared for the longer runway.
Comair declined to discuss a suspected cause. The airline said the pilot was hired in 1999 and the co-pilot in 2002, and both had extensive experience with the plane.
US homeland security officials said there was no indication of terrorism.
Comair Flight 5191 was the third of a dozen early morning takeoffs in Lexington. The two previous planes used the longer runway without incident, an aviation source said. Two runways intersect in a V-shape.
There was one air controller on duty, which is standard for that airport at that hour, an aviation source said. The controller had worked all night and was at the end of the shift.
Exploded into flames
Gary Ginn, Fayette county coroner, said the plane exploded into flames, which likely caused most of the deaths.
The lone survivor was first officer James Polehinke, who was pulled from the wreckage by police. Polehinke was in critical condition at a local hospital.
Don Bornhorst, Comair’s president, said the weather was not likely a factor. The twin-engine plane, obtained new in January 2001, had a clean maintenance record and the crew was well-rested and familiar with the aircraft, which had performed 12,048 takeoff and landing “cycles”. That work load is normal for an aircraft of that age, officials said.
Comair has 168 CRJ jets made by Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. and operates 920 daily flights to 110 U.S. cities, Canada and the Bahamas.