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49 dead after Comair regional jet crashes in Kentucky

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August 27, 2006

File Photo of a Comair CRJ200 regional jet

A Comair Canadair Regional Jet operating as Delta Connection Flight 5191 crashed after takeoff from Lexington, Kentucky at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time, killing 49 of 50 people aboard. The sole confirmed survivor, First Officer James M. Polehinke, was taken to the University of Kentucky's Chandler Medical Center, where he is currently listed in critical condition. According to Comair President Don Bornhorst, Jeffery Clay, who was the pilot of the plane, started working with Comair in 1999 and was promoted to captain in 2004.

The CRJ-100ER, which was en route to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, crashed into woods about one mile to the west of Lexington's Blue Grass Airport in Kentucky. According to Gary Ginn, the Fayette County coroner, there was a significant fire on board the aircraft after impact, after which it continued to move forward several hundred yards before coming to a stop. The aircraft however, is largely intact, said Ginn, and most of the passengers remained inside the cabin. Ginn said he expects the cause of death to be fire for the majority of the victims. The tail number has been confirmed as N431CA.

Local police and fire fighters responded to the scene within minutes, and there are currently a large number of emergency workers at the scene. Additionally, teams from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are en route to Lexington to begin a thorough investigation. Both flight data recorders ("black boxes") have been recovered and are waiting to be examined.

The cause of the crash is unknown. Reports say that there was no poor weather in the Lexington area. "It was dark at the time of the accident, but it was clear," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told CNN. Also at the time of the crash, there was a light rain falling, according to local meteorologists. It has been stated that there was a fire post-impact, but it is not yet clear whether the plane was on fire in the air. Brown also stated that there is no indication that terrorism was involved in connection with the crash.

Speculation has also centered around the possibility that the plane took off from the wrong runway. Blue Grass Airport has two runways: one, referred to as runway 22, is 7000 feet long, lit, and is the runway always used by commercial airliners. The airport also contains a second runway, 26, which is only 3500 feet long, is unlit, and is usually used only for general aviation. The crash site is located a little past the end of the shorter runway, so it is speculated that the plane may have taken off of the wrong runway, perhaps contributing to the crash. According to local aviation experts, it would be only barely possible, if not impossible, for a plane of this size to take off on a runway of such length.

Family members and friends who suspected that their loved ones may have been on Flight 5191 began arriving at Blue Grass Airport shortly after the crash. They have been taken to a local hotel, where staff from Comair as well as airport officials are caring for them and providing them with information. Comair has also set up a hotline where family and friends can receive information: the number is 1-800-801-0088.

Among the victims of Comair Flight 5191 were a couple who had just been married, that were starting their honeymoon and a man who wanted to leave on an earlier flight to return home to be with his children.

A moment of silence was held for the crash victims before the Los Angeles Dodgers-Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game in Phoenix, where Brandon Webb, a former Kentucky teammate of passenger Jon Hooker, is a pitcher. Another passenger, Charles Lykins of Naples, Fla., wanted an early flight so he could get home to his two young children after visiting friends and family in the Lexington area, said Paul Richardson of Winchester. Mike Finley, 52, who lived in Corbin and owned the Finley Fun Centers, was headed to Reno, Nev., for a rollerskating convention, said his son, David Taylor. "I'd say there's thousands of kids who grew up with our father," he said.

Rick Queen, who works for Turfway Realty in Lexington, said his father-in-law, Les Morris, was on the flight. Queen and Taylor were both frustrated with how Delta handled the families. "I just felt Delta ran families around this morning for three hours. I finally got some help from a Lexington firefighter," Taylor said.

Flight attendant Kelly Heyer was single and lived in the Cincinnati area. He had been working for the airline since 2004 and was recently appointed base representative for the flight attendant union said Tracy Riley, a union secretary and fellow Comair flight attendant. "He was a standup individual," Riley said. "He was very professional, loved the job."

Bornhorst described his own reaction as "complete devastation" and he lamented the frustration of the families as they awaited word. "When tragedies like this happen, information can just not be relayed fast enough and I certainly understand the frustrations related to that," Bornhorst said.


Wikipedia has an article about Comair Flight 5191.
This story originally ran at

This story was originally posted here.

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