August 13, 2007
By Jeffrey McMurray
LEXINGTON, Ky. - A lead investigator of last summer's deadly Kentucky plane crash says the accident exposed "latent failures" across the nation's aviation system.
In an eight-page concurring opinion obtained by The Associated Press, National Transportation Safety Board member Deborah Hersman agreed that the pilots' failure to notice clues they were going down a runway too short for takeoff was the primary cause.
However, she suggested her colleagues may have overlooked nine other critical errors that she says should have been included as contributing factors in the NTSB's final report.
Among the factors that contributed to the crash, Hersman said, were a fatigued air traffic controller, a short-staffed control tower, outdated airport charts and missing paperwork that would have warned the pilots about a construction project that changed the taxiway route.
The Comair jet crashed in the predawn darkness Aug. 27, shortly after taking off from the wrong runway -- an unlit general aviation strip too short for commercial flights. Of the 50 people onboard, only the co-pilot survived.
Voting last month in Washington, the NTSB decided that pilot error was the primary cause, and the Federal Aviation Administration had a lesser role. The NTSB findings will be released in writing later this month, along with Hersman's concurring opinion.
"The system the pilots were operating in had multiple holes," Hersman wrote. "Not one of these latent failures was significant enough to eclipse the actions of the pilots as the probable cause of this accident, but viewed as a group, they illuminate safety weaknesses that, if eliminated, may very well prevent another accident like this one."
Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx declined to comment Monday because the NTSB's final report hasn't been released. In past statements, the airline has argued several factors, not just pilot error, were responsible for the crash.
An FAA spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.
Besides listing her findings about the Kentucky crash, Hersman argued that future NTSB investigations should be more comprehensive in identifying a primary cause. She suggested Congress might need to act to give the agency the flexibility to do that.
More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against Comair by families of victims; 10 families have settled their cases. Documents were filed Monday in the latest settlement, of a lawsuit filed by relatives of horse trainer Jeffrey Williams, 49, of Centerville, Ohio.