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
SENATOR SHAW AVOIDED DOOMED PLANE,
WEEK OF AUGUST 31-SEPTEMBER 6, 2006
by CASH MICHAELS
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.
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
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
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
“It’s amazing,” he said.
Dr. Bagby, who also once taught at Shaw University in
“I think God is protecting him,” The Muslim scholar
said in an exclusive phone interview. I think God
“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
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,
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.
“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
“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
By JEFFREY MCMURRAY
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
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
>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
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
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
``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 email@example.com ; Mary
Schlangenstein in Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com ;
John Hughes in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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