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Comair Crash Peculiarities

These news reports on the Comair crash in Kentucky
make for some very peculiar reading. They reveal that
a number of strictly-enforced FAA rules were
flagrantly violated, setting the conditions for the
crash ... but no one is making an issue of it so far.

The single flight controller in the tower at Blue
Grass - one violates a basic FAA regulation - had been
overworked and only had two hours sleep - another FAA

regulation ignored - by design?

Depending on whom one believes, turning on the wrong
runway is a very "common" or "uncommon" occurrence -
several "experts" in these articles completely
contradict each other.

BTW, Comair filed filing for bankruptcy reorganization

last year and is in a vulnerable financial position.

The AP reported on 8/28/06: "Runway route changed a
week before crash" - Were the pilots not informed of
the changes at the airport, also by design?

This was "the worst U.S. plane disaster since 2001."
That is, November, 2001, not September ...

Check out the first officer's history of domestic
violence - his wife once shot him in the stomach.

AP: "Federal investigators said they were looking at
such things as lights, markings and signs that may
have confused the pilots, but at a midday briefing
they did not specifically mention the repaving
project." Why didn't they raise this obvious point?

"Conspiracy theorists" will have a field day with this


The Wilmington Journal, 8/29/2006


[FAYETTEVILLE, NC] A prominent member of the NC
Legislative Black Caucus is counting his blessings in
he aftermath of Sunday’s fatal wrong runway crash of
Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, Kentucky.

State Sen. Larry Shaw of Cumberland County was

supposed to speaking at the University of Kentucky on

Saturday, then flying back to North Carolina by way of

Atlanta on the Sunday 6 a.m. flight from Blue Grass

Airport. But in an exclusive interview with The

Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers Monday by

phone, the still shaken six-term Fayetteville Democrat

said he inexplicably canceled out of the engagement

this time because he sensed something was wrong.

That premonition saved his life. The commuter flight

he would have taken Sunday morning crashed on takeoff,

killing all 47 passengers, and two of the three crew


It is the worst plane disaster in the United States

since November 2001.

Though certainly sorrowful for the tragic loss of

life, Sen. Shaw – who ironically is chairman of the

State Senate’s Transportation Committee - is thankful,

and believes it was God’s hand that stopped him from

going on a trip that would have cost him his own.

“I have to take that as a message,” Shaw, sounding

exasperated the day after, told The

Carolinian/Wilmington Journal newspapers.

Sen. Shaw was booked for a speaking engagement at the

University of Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday,

August 26, His longtime friend, Dr. Ihsan A. Bagby,

Muslim scholar and associate professor of Islamic

Studies at UK, had invited Shaw, who is also Muslim,

to be the keynoter at the annual Council on American

Islamic Relations of Kentucky (CAIR-KY) banquet.

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Several local and state dignitaries, including the

mayor, were also expected to attend the event

sponsored by the local chapter of the country’s

leading and largest Muslim civil liberties group.

Dr. Bagby is the chairman of the Kentucky chapter.

Because Shaw had to return to North Carolina the next

day by noon, it was agreed that he would take the 6

a.m. Comair flight to Atlanta, and then connect with a

flight home.

Comair Flight 5191 was the earliest, and only flight

out of Lexington that Sunday morning, so Dr. Bagby had

it booked for Shaw through Delta Air Lines, Comair’s

parent company.

According to a Delta flight itinerary forwarded to The

Carolinian/Wilmington Journal newspapers, Sen. Shaw

was confirmed to leave Raleigh-Durham International

Airport on Saturday August 26 on Delta 912 at 12:30

p.m., arriving in Atlanta at 1:53 p.m., and then

connecting with Comair 4671 from Atlanta at 2:45 p.m.,

arriving in Lexington, Ky. at 3:57 p.m.

The Comair flights on the Delta itinerary are denoted

with an asterisk.

His Sunday Delta itinerary called for Shaw to fly out

on Comair 5191 at 6 a.m. arriving in Atlanta at 7:18

a.m., then leaving Atlanta’s Hartsfield International

Airport for RDU International Airport at 8:47 a.m.,

and finally touching down in North Carolina at 10:08


Everything was set, says Shaw, until events overseas

changed his mind.

On August 10, British intelligence busted up an

alleged plot by at least 23 terrorists to blow up as

many as 10 America-bound jetliners to, as one British

official said, “commit mass murder on an unimaginable


“When this piece came down with the London terrorist

plot, something just came over me, and said, ‘Leave

this alone,” Shaw says. “Don’t fly, just leave this

alone and sit for a while.”

Shaw says he e-emailed, then called Dr. Bagby to tell

his friend about his change of heart.

“We prayed about this, and then he said reconsider.”

Shaw took time to indeed think about it, then called

Dr. Bagby back just days before the engagements

saying, “Brother, I just can’t do this. I just don’t

feel comfortable. “

Bagby wasn’t pleased, Sen. Shaw recalls.

However, when Shaw turned on his television Sunday

morning at 7:30 a.m. and saw news that the flight he

was supposed to be on had crashed, he knew that only

by the grace of God he was spared. It has been

emotional for him ever since.

“It has been, and still is,” Shaw says.

The state senator said during the course of being in

business for over 35 years, he’s rarely “cancelled out

on people” for anything, including speaking

engagements. But this was different, and given the

obvious result, Shaw says he “has no regrets about


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“It’s amazing,” he said.

Dr. Bagby, who also once taught at Shaw University in

Raleigh, agreed.

“I think God is protecting him,” The Muslim scholar

said in an exclusive phone interview. I think God

protected him.”

“I still have [Sen. Shaw’s] ticket with me, and [when

I heard about the crash], I looked at it and sure

enough, ‘Flight 5191,’ the flight that went down. He

was booked on it.”

Dr. Bagby admitted that when Shaw originally voiced

deep concern about flying to Kentucky, “I scratched my

head and said, ‘Man, what’s wrong with this dude?’”

But after the crash, there was no doubt in Bagby’s

mind that his close friend’s “gut feeling” saved his


“I was telling the people around here that if [Sen.

Shaw] had gone down, our lives would have been turned

upside down,” Dr. Bagby said.

On behalf of CAIR-KY, Dr. Bagby issued a statement of

“heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims

of Flight 5191.

As residents of Lexington and Kentucky, and as human

beings who share the same life struggles, we are

deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life of the

passengers and crew of Delta Flight 5191, “ Bagby


In Islam, we are taught to say, ‘Inna lillahi wa inna

ilayhi raji’un’ ‘We belong to God and to God we shall

return.’ May we all find peace and comfort in God’s


At presstime, investigators with the National

Transportation Safety Board were still probing why

Flight 5191 attempted takeoff from a runway half the

designated distance required for a commercial jet.

Experts say while the plane needed at least 5,000 feet

to make proper takeoff, it ran out of runway at 3,500

feet, crashing with tanks full of fuel, causing an

explosion and fireball that killed all but one of its

50 occupants.

The co-pilot was pulled from the wreckage, and as of

Tuesday, was listed in critical condition.

Investigators speculate that a recent alteration of

the runway taxi routes may have confused Flight 5191’s

pilots, causing them to mistakenly taxi unto shorter

Runway 26, instead of the 7,000-foot-long Runway 22,

as instructed.

There are also indications that the runway lights were

off, a critical factor given that at 6 a.m. on Sunday,

it was still dark outside.

At presstime, it was still not known why the sole air

traffic controller on duty that morning in the

airport’s control tower didn’t realize the mix-up

immediately, and have the plane abort its takeoff. The

NTSB’s crash investigation continues, as the future of

Comair, a regional air carrier owned by Atlanta-based

Delta Air Lines, already operating under bankruptcy

protection, hangs in the balance.

Several people connected to the University of Kentucky

lost their lives on the doomed flight, including an

administrator, and two former students who had been

married the night before, and were off on a honeymoon

they would never see.

“The book of Isaiah promises that God will ‘bind up

the brokenhearted … to comfort all who mourn,” said

University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. in a


Meanwhile, those who know Sen. Shaw, and about his

close call, are still shaking their heads.

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“There is such a thing as divine intervention,” said

N. Carnell Robinson, president of the NC Black

Leadership Caucus regarding the good fortune of his

friend, Larry Shaw. Robinson said he spoke with Shaw

for an hour after the crash, helping him deal with the

tragic irony.

“It’s one thing to come close to death and not realize

it, but when it’s shown to you, that’s another story,”

Shaw said in reflection. “You have to take another

look at it.”



Aug. 29, 2006, 7:12AM

Pilots discussed absence of lights

Recorder shows crew of Comair jet did not realize they

were using the wrong runway


Associated Press

LEXINGTON, KY. - Pilots of a Comair jet that crashed

on takeoff noticed there were no lights as they

prepared to depart, but they didn't recognize they

were headed down the wrong runway, investigators said


... Both runways at Blue Grass Airport have lights

along the edges, although the shorter runway is for

daylight operation only, and its lights haven't worked

since October 2001. The long runway also has lights in

the center. In the days leading up to the crash, those

runway center lights were not working, according to a

notice the FAA sent to airlines.

Hersman told a news conference that investigators were

"looking into reports about any work that had been

done at the airport, what might have been approved,

what might have been proposed and what might have been

completed. Anything that might have changed the

configuration or appearances of the airport."

According to the NTSB database, there have been four

accidents caused by pilots taking off on the wrong

runway worldwide since 1982.

"It's not common," Bill Waldock, aviation safety

professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in

Arizona. "It's right up there with lightning strikes.

[Contrast with: "Error in Comair crash fairly common,

USA Today - Aug 27, 2006: ... 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.


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. "It's not the duty of the controller to

baby-sit every flight."

The FAA said a second air traffic controller would be

added to the weekend overnight shifts at the airport.

Agency spokeswoman Laura Brown declined to give a

reason for the decision.



Plane crash controller had little sleep: investigators

Last Updated Thu, 31 Aug 2006 00:25:48 EDT

CBC News

The lone air traffic controller on duty during the

fatal Comair Flight 5191 crash in Kentucky was

operating on just two hours of sleep.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member

Debbie Hersman said Wednesday the controller had nine

hours off between work shifts Saturday. Federal rules

require a minimum of eight hours off between shifts.

The controller, 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 early Sunday morning.

It is the latest revelation involving a string of

incidents and missteps that ultimately proved deadly.

It was previously learned that the air traffic

controller was on duty by himself — in violation of

Federal Aviation Administration policy — and was doing

"administrative duties" with his back turned on the

aircraft as the pilots attempted takeoff on the wrong




NTSB: Controller Had Back Turned When Jet Went Down

Wrong Runway

>From Associated Press

4:02 PM PDT, August 29, 2006

WASHINGTON -- 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 today.

Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration

acknowledged violating its own policies when it

assigned only one controller to the Lexington


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."...

Earlier today, 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....

The sole survivor, first officer James Polehinke, was

in critical condition today.... 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....

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.


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."



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.

Updated: New York, Aug 31 01:22

London, Aug 31 06:22

Tokyo, Aug 31 14:22



Comair Crash Probe to Examine Pilots' Cockpit Actions


By John Hughes and Mary Schlangenstein

Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. safety investigators

probing a Comair crash in Kentucky that killed 49

people are looking into why pilots may have skipped

the basic task of using a cockpit instrument to

determine they were on the wrong runway.

Using a compass or ``heading bug'' to confirm the

correct runway is a procedure ``an awful lot of pilots

use, including myself,'' said John Cox, a former

airline pilot and safety consultant. ``It is a normal

part of basic airmanship. You're taught that very

early in flight training.''

Comair Flight 5191 crashed Aug. 27 after using Runway

26, which was too short for a safe takeoff. Runways

are aligned according to compass headings, so the

pilots' instruments should have told them they were on

an incorrect heading of 260 degrees, not the 220

degrees to place them on the longer Runway 22.

``These guys would have had to have made multiple

mistakes for this to have happened,'' said Jon

Kettles, a Dallas-based lawyer who specializes in air


A cockpit compass beacon would have been an easy

indicator that the plane was on the wrong heading,

Kettles said. ``They really should have seen that, but

there were a series of other basic operating

procedures that they probably missed as well,'' he


The Canadair CRJ regional jet, made by Bombardier

Inc., tore through the airport's perimeter fence,

clipped trees and crashed, catching fire and killing

the 47 passengers and two crew members. The co-pilot

was the sole survivor. The pre-dawn flight by Comair,

a unit of Delta Air Lines Inc., had been destined for


Documenting Cockpit Actions

National Transportation Safety Board investigators

have made no comments on whether the pilots checked

the heading before takeoff, said Ted Lopatkiewicz, a

board spokesman.

``We would certainly document everything that happened

to the most extent possible in that cockpit leading up

to the accident,'' Lopatkiewicz said. He said he

didn't know if the cockpit voice recorder tape would

reveal whether they checked the heading.

The NTSB is also examining several other issues that

may be related to the crash, including the role of the

lone controller working at the airport that morning

and whether the pilots took the wrong runway because

of confusion resulting from changes made a week

earlier to the airport's taxiways and runway lights.

Joshua Hammond, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based

Comair, wouldn't comment on the pilots' training or

specifics on what happened in the cockpit before the


`What Were They Talking About?'

Cockpit communication, reliance on instruments and

whether the pilots went over required pre-flight

checklists will be important parts of the safety

board's probe, said Dan Rose, a partner in New

York-based Kreindler & Kreindler, which specializes in

aviation accident litigation.

Even silence on the cockpit voice recorder may

indicate that the pilots weren't talking to or

challenging each other, Rose said. Too much talk not

related to work can be a distraction, he said.

``What were they talking about?'' said Rose, a former

Navy jet flier who is now a private pilot. ``The bulk

of the responsibility will undoubtedly lie with the

flight crew, who has all these indicators and the

ultimate responsibility for the safety of the


Comair Captain Jeffrey Clay, 35, taxied the jet onto

the runway the morning of the accident. First Officer

James Polehinke, 44, took the controls from the

captain after the plane taxied onto the wrong runway.

Clay died in the crash and Polehinke remains


Too Soon for Conclusions

It's too soon to make any conclusions about what the

pilots did in the cockpit, said Cox, president of

Washington-based Safety Operating Systems and former

head of safety for the Air Line Pilots Association

union. ``We don't know whether they did or didn't''

look at the heading bug, he said.

``You'll find there are a number of things that led

the guys to end up on the wrong runway,'' said Kevin

Darcy, who spent 17 years on Boeing Co.'s air-safety

investigation team and is a partner at Seattle-based

Safety Services International LLC. ``There can be

distractions. Once all those factors come together,

then the way error or errors were made becomes a

little bit more understandable.''

To contact the reporters on this story: John Hughes in

Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net ; Mary

Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: August 30, 2006 17:49 EDT



U.S. FAA Says Tower Understaffed During Comair Crash


By John Hughes and Mary Schlangenstein

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Aviation

Administration violated its own policy by having one

controller instead of two working at the Lexington,

Kentucky, control tower the morning a Comair jet

crashed, killing 49.

FAA officials learned after the accident that the

policy hadn't been followed, and ``they directed the

facility manager to ensure that a minimum of two

controllers are on duty at all times,'' FAA

spokeswoman Laura Brown said today.

She said two employees have been staffing the tower in

the overnight shift since Aug. 27, the evening after

the accident.

U.S. safety investigators are examining the FAA's role

the morning of the accident and whether the pilots of

Comair Flight 5191 may have been confused by changes

made to the airport's taxiway and runway lights a week

before the jet crashed.

The 50-seat Canadair CRJ-100 smashed into a horse farm

Aug. 27 after trying to lift off from the wrong runway

at Blue Grass Airport. The only survivor was the first

officer, who was piloting the plane. Comair is part of

Delta Air Lines Inc.

The airport's taxiway configuration, runway lighting

and a repaving project are all being reviewed by the

National Transportation Safety Board, spokesman Ted

Lopatkiewicz said.

Safety board investigators haven't determined why

Flight 5191 was on Runway 26 before dawn. That runway

is unlighted, is used by small planes and is half the

length of Runway 22, which the Comair jet was supposed

to use. The two runways intersect and share a taxiway.

Safety Improvements

The airport changes were part of a four-phase safety

improvement project that began in October 2003.

Workers blocked the usual route for accessing the

runways on Aug. 20, a week before the accident,

shortening the taxiway, said Brian Ellestad, airport

marketing director.

The airport was closed to flights for two days

starting Aug. 18 so Runway 22 could be repaved, he

said. The center-line lights on that runway were

removed and were to be reinstalled over the next


Runway 22's remaining lights were on when the crash

occurred, investigators were told by an employee of

another airline who witnessed Flight 5191's takeoff

and crash.

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The Comair pilots discussed the lack of runway lights

with each other before takeoff, said Debbie Hersman,

an NTSB investigator. Even after noticing the absence

of lighting, she said, they still didn't realize they

were on the wrong runway.

``The cockpit voice recorder revealed there was a

comment in the cockpit, and this would have been just

between the pilots, that there were no lights,''

Hersman said yesterday. ``There was no communication

to the cockpit during the takeoff roll from air

traffic control.''

Pilots Notified

Pilots flying into Lexington had been notified as

recently as Aug. 25 about construction on the runways

that could result in changes such as lighting, Hersman


Comair, based in Cincinnati, won't comment on whether

the pilots were familiar with the Lexington airport or

how recently they had flown there, spokeswoman Laura

Goulding said today.

The jet tore through the airport's perimeter fence,

clipped trees and crashed, catching fire and killing

the 47 passengers and two crew members. First Officer

James Polehinke, 44, remained hospitalized in critical

condition today.

A fully loaded CRJ-200, which replaced the same-size

CRJ- 100, needs at least 5,800 feet of runway to take

off, according to the Web site of plane maker

Bombardier Inc.

Investigators last night used a Canadair CRJ-100 to

re- create the plane's taxiing and takeoff, NTSB

spokesman Terry Williams said. He declined to comment

on what investigators determined from the test.

Controller on Duty

The air traffic controller on duty at the Blue Grass

Airport on Aug. 27 didn't say anything to the pilots

about the plane being on the wrong runway, Williams


Safety board investigators are interviewing managers

and pilots today at Comair. It may take a year or more

for the NTSB to rule on a cause of the crash.

In addition to Polehinke, the crew consisted of

Captain Jeffrey Clay, 35, and flight attendant Kelly

Heyer, 27. Clay joined Comair in November 1999,

Polehinke in March 2002 and Heyer in July 2004,

according to Comair.

Comair followed Atlanta-based Delta in filing for

bankruptcy reorganization last year and is working to

trim $42 million from annual operating expenses. The

carrier began flying for Delta in 1984 and became a

subsidiary in 2000.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mary

Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net ;

John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net

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