Foreign Affairs in Ottawa confirmed that two Canadians were among the dead but has not released identities.
Although Blue Grass Airport’s main runway is about 2,135 metres, for some reason the plane departed from the 1,066-metre general aviation runway. The Canadian-built twin-engine CRJ-100 would have needed 1,525 metres to fully get off the ground, aviation experts said.
There also were clues for the pilot: signs marking the right way; less lighting on the shorter runway, and severely cracked concrete - not the type of surface typically found on runways for commercial routes.
“We will be taking a look at the weight of the aircraft, the runway available and where they should have been,” National Transportation Safety Board member Deborah Hersman said Monday on NBC’s Today show. “We certainly are going to be looking at how to prevent something like this from occurring in the future.”
Bombardier Aerospace will send product safety and technical experts to the scene of the crash to assist the NTSB investigation, a company spokesman in Montreal said Sunday.
“It’s an unfortunate, tragic event but certainly the aircraft has a very good, I’d say exceptional, safety record,” said Bert Cruickshank.
Amid the devastation and lost lives, there was one story of heroism: police officer Bryan Jared reached into the broken cockpit and burned his arms as he pulled out James Polehinke, the plane’s first officer. Polehinke, the only survivor, was listed in critical condition at University of Kentucky Hospital.
A light rain was falling Sunday when the plane taxied away from the main runway, which had been repaved last week. The Atlanta-bound plane plowed through a perimeter fence and crashed in a field about a kilometre from the shorter runway.
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 crash marks the end of what has been called the “safest period in aviation history” in the United States. There has not been a major crash since Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 plunged into a residential neighbourhood in New York City, killing 265 people, including five on the ground.
Aerial images of the latest crash site in the rolling hills of Kentucky’s horse country showed trees damaged at the end of the short runway and the nose of the plane almost parallel to the small strip.
When rescuers reached it, the plane was largely intact but in flames.
“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.”
Those killed included a newlywed couple starting their honeymoon, a director of Habitat for Humanity International, and a Florida man who had caught an early flight home to be with his children.
The crew members who died were Capt. Jeffrey Clay, who was hired by Erlanger, Ky.-based Comair in 1999, and flight attendant Kelly Heyer, hired in 2004. Polehinke has been with Comair since 2002.
The plane had undergone routine maintenance as recently as
Saturday and had 14,500 flight hours, “consistent with aircraft
of that age,” Comair president Don Bornhorst said.
Investigators from the FAA and NTSB were at the scene, and Bornhorst said the airline was working to contact relatives of the passengers.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, in Germany for the World Equestrian Games and an economic development trip, was to return to Kentucky on Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said.
Jon Hooker, a former minor-league baseball player, and Scarlett Parsley had wed the night before the crash in a fairy-tale ceremony complete with a horse-drawn carriage and 300 friends.
“It’s so tragic because he was so happy last night,” said Keith Madison, who coached Hooker’s baseball team at the University of Kentucky and attended the wedding. “It’s just an incredible turn of events. It’s really painful.”
Pat Smith, a member of Habitat for Humanity International’s Board of Directors, died on his way to Gulfport, Miss., to work on rebuilding houses, Habitat spokesman Duane Bates said.
Another passenger, Charles Lykins of Naples, Fla., caught an early flight Sunday so he could get home to his two young children after visiting friends and family in the Lexington area, said friend Paul Richardson.