Updated: 4:34 p.m. ET Aug. 28, 2006
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The taxi route for commercial jets at Blue Grass Airport was altered a week before Comair Flight 5191 took the wrong runway and crashed, killing all but one of the 50 people aboard, the airport’s director said Monday.
Both the old and new taxiways to reach the main commercial runway cross over the shorter general aviation runway, where the commuter jet tried to take off early Sunday, Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb told The Associated Press.
While the main strip, Runway 22, is 7,000 feet long, the shorter one, Runway 26, is just 3,500 feet. Aviation experts say the CRJ-100 would have needed 5,000 feet to fully get off the ground.
The runway repaving was completed late on the previous Sunday, one week before the crash, Gobb said.
It wasn’t clear if the Comair pilots aboard Flight 5191 had been to the airport since the changes. Comair operates that regular 6 a.m. Sunday flight to Atlanta from Lexington, but another commuter airline takes over the early morning commute during the week.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and said it was reviewing runway and taxiway markings as part of its investigation.
Recorded conversations between Comair Flight 5191’s cockpit crew and the single person staffing the control tower in the minutes before Sunday’s crash showed no signs of trouble. The only runway mentioned was the main commercial strip, Runway 22, said NTSB member Debbie Hersman.
Somehow, the commuter jet ended up on Runway 26 instead — a cracked surface meant for small planes that was much too short for Comair’s twin-engine jet.
What followed was the worst U.S. plane disaster since 2001.
“The take-off began, and the aircraft continued to accelerate until the recording stopped,” Hersman said.
The plane clipped trees, then quickly crashed in a field and burst into flames, killing everyone aboard but a critically injured co-pilot who was pulled from the cracked cockpit.
Preflight ‘consistent’ with
Information retrieved from the cockpit voice recorder indicated that the preflight preparations had been “consistent with normal operations,” Hersman said Monday.
There were no obvious problem with the airworthiness of the plane and the engines were in tact and appeared to have been in good working order, she said.
Jamie Rhodes / Getty Images
A small plane lands on runway 22 at Lexington, Ky., Blue Grass Airport on Monday as National Transportation Safety Board investigators, in the structure behind the runway, sift for clues surrounding the crash site of Comair Flight 5191.
Lowell Wiley, a flight instructor who flies almost daily from Lexington, said he was confused by the redirected taxi route when he was with a student taking off from the main runway Friday.
Pilots encountered problems with the runway layout at Lexington’s airport in the past, as well.
In a letter filed in 1993 with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, maintained by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a pilot described his experience:
“Aircraft was cleared for immediate takeoff (traffic was inside the marker) on runway 22 at KLEX. We taxied onto the runway and told tower we needed a moment to check our departure routing with our weather radar (storms were in the area, raining at the airport). We realized our heading was not correct for our assigned runway and at that moment, tower called us to cancel the takeoff clearance because we were lined up on runway 26.”