CONTROLLER, PILOT THOUGHT PLANE WAS ON CORRECT RUNWAY

Lexington Herald-Leader
August 28, 2006
By Ryan Alessi

An air traffic controller and Comair 5191's crew thought the aircraft was poised to take off from the correct, longer Blue Grass Airport runway, but the plane used the wrong runway on its fatal flight.

"The tower tapes confirm the plan discussed between air traffic controllers and the flight crew were for a take off on runway 22," the airport's 7,000-foot runway designed for commercial aircraft, Debbie Hersman, a National Transportation Safety Board member said early this afternoon.

Hersman said there was "nothing on the tapes referencing runway 26," which at 3,500 feet is too short for commercial planes.

The plane crashed early yesterday morning, killing 49 of 50 people aboard.

Federal investigators have identified the top areas they will look into, including whether the plane took off from a darkened runway and whether there was any talk in the cockpit or tower that it was the wrong one. The key question remains why the plane took off from the shorter runway and whether anyone realized it before the plane left the ground.

Debbie Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board member, said investigators have split off into groups and hope to have an update this evening that may include information from the flight's data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, which are being analyzed and transcribed in Washington.

Investigators have set up a truck at the airport that will give them the same view as from a cockpit, Hersman said.

They are interviewing the lone air traffic controller on duty yesterday morning at the time of the crash, Hersman said. She added that having one controller on duty is not unusual for that time of day.

They are reviewing information about improvements at the airport as well as so-called notice to airmen. They advise pilots of any airport changes or other information they need.

A recent notice addressed the lighting of the airport's runway. She said the short runway the airline took off from was darkened at the time.

She said she didn't know if the lights were on on the longer runway as they were supposed to be.

Investigators will be looking through the wreckage despite the rain., she said.

"The debris field is still being documented; there is some scratter and a lot of burn damage ... to the aircraft, Hersman said. "There's still a significant amount of work that needs to be.

The groups will meet again at 7 p.m. and a briefing is expected thereafter, possibly as late as 9:30 p.m.