|CONGRESSMEN WANT AIRPORT CONTROL PROBE
August 31, 2006
By Jeffrey McMurray
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Two congressmen called for an investigation into the staffing at airport control towers after investigators revealed that only one controller was on duty when Comair Flight 5191 crashed in Kentucky and that he had had just two hours of sleep between shifts.
The controller had just enough time between shifts Saturday to meet the federal requirement of eight hours off, said National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman.
Early Sunday, he clearing Flight 5191 for takeoff, then turned away to do administrative work, Hersman said. He didn't see the plane turn down a runway too short for it, try to take off and then crash in flames that killing 49 of the 50 people aboard.
Much of the focus elsewhere was on the lone air traffic controller at Blue Grass Airport.
Federal rules since November 2005 have required two air traffic controllers on duty in towers, but aviation experts say single staffing is still common at small regional airports.
"We'll work with the congressmen to address the issues they raised," said David Barnes, inspector general spokesman.
"The mandate that is issued by FAA is only as good as the staffing levels at that particular tower," Spirito said.
"We have clarified the guidance for them," Brown said.
Also Wednesday, six tour buses took the victims' families to the crash site for the first time. The airport also established a memorial in a parking lot, featuring a banner reading "Remembering 5191" with pens for people to write messages.
"We understand that no monetary relief can overcome the grief of losing a loved one," Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said. "But we also recognize there likely will be additional financial demands at this difficult time, and we hope this form of assistance can help alleviate some of the immediate financial pressures."
Associated Press writers Leslie Miller in Washington; Dylan T. Lovan and Bruce Schreiner in Louisville; Elizabeth Dunbar in Lexington; and Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., contributed to this report.