Lexington, KY Commuter Plane Crash, Aug 2006
49 DEAD IN COMMUTER JET CRASH.
CREW MEMBER SURVIVES AFTER PLANE BURST INTO FLAMES DURING TAKEOFF.
Lexington, Ky. -- (AP) -- Comair Flight 5191 was on a runway too short for its size and weight in the seconds before it crashed early Sunday and burst into flames, killing 49 people and leaving the lone survivor -- a co-pilot -- in critical condition, federal investigators said.
Preliminary flight data from the plane's black boxes and the damage at the scene indicate that the plane took off from the shortest runway at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said.
The 3,500-foot-long strip, unlit and barely half the length of the airport's main runway, is not intended for commercial flights.
It wasn't immediately clear how the plane ended up on there in the predawn dark.
"We will be looking into performance data, we will be looking at the weight of the aircraft, we will be looking at speeds, we will pull all that information off," Hersman said.
Aviation experts said the twin-engine CRJ-200 regional jet would have needed 4,500 feet to fully get off the ground.
The Atlanta-bound plane crashed through a perimeter fence and crashed in a field less than one mile from the end of that runway at about 6:07 a.m. Aerial images of the crash site in the rolling hills of Kentucky's horse country showed trees damaged at the end of the short runway nd the nose of the plane almost parallel to the small strip.
When rescuers reached it, the plane was largely intact but in flames. A police officer burned his arms dragging the only survivor from the cracked cockpit.
The flames kept rescuers from reaching anyone else aboard -- newlywed couple starting their honeymoon, a Florida man who had caught an early flight home to be with his children and a University of Kentucky official among them.
"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."
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency had no indication that terrorism was involved in any way in what was the country's worst domestic plane crash in five years.
It's rare for a plane to get on the wrong runway, but "sometimes with the intersecting runways, pilots go down the wrong one," said Saint Louis University aerospace professor emeritus Paul Czysz.
The worst such crash came on Oct. 31, 2000, when a Los Angeles-bound Singapore Airlines jumbo jet mistakenly went down a runway at Taiwan's Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport that had been closed for repairs because of a recent typhoon. The resulting collision with construction equipment killed 83 people on board.
At the Lexington Airport, the shorter runway veers off at a V from the main strip.
Comair President Don Bornhorst said the plane's maintenance was up to date and its three-member flight crew was experienced and had been flying that airplane for some time.
"We are absolutely, totally committed to doing everything humanly possible to determine the cause of this accident," Bornhorst said.
"One of the most damaging things that can happen to an investigation of this magnitude is for speculation or for us to guess at what may be happening."
Most of the passengers aboard the flight had planned to connect to other flights in Atlanta and did not have family waiting for them, said the Rev. Harold Boyce, a volunteer chaplain at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.