Louisville Courier-Journal
January 25, 2007
By Mark Pitsch

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The sole air traffic controller on duty the morning of the Comair Flight 5191 crash had slept two hours before his overnight shift, a federal investigator said Wednesday.

Following an eight-hour shift Saturday, he was off for nine hours, sleeping for two hours, National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said.

She said federal rules require controllers to have a minimum of eight hours off between shifts, although she did not say whether there were sleep requirements.

In addition to examining whether sleep played a role in the crash, investigators will review whether federal rules for work and rest for controllers need to be changed, she said.

"We're not looking at just this controller. We're going to take a systems approach to this," Hersman said, speaking at the last briefing in Lexington on the crash.

The controller was about two hours away from the end of his shift when the regional jet trying to get airborne crashed at 6:10 a.m., killing 49 of 50 people aboard. His identity has not been released.

Hersman said she doesn't know whether the controller was fatigued. "We're looking back a number of days. It is not just 24 hours. We are looking at his schedule for the previous days," she said.

She declined to say whether investigators believe the controller, a 17-year veteran, had gotten enough sleep, and she did not elaborate on why he had slept just two hours.

The controller had worked from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and then returned for a shift from 11:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, the day of the crash, she said.

Hersman said the controller was working with another plane that had just taken off while the Comair flight was preparing for takeoff.

Hersman has said the controller told investigators that he thought the plane was heading toward Runway 22, not Runway 26, which officials say is too short for a plane of that size and weight.

After clearing the flight for takeoff, the controller turned away to do administrative duties, Hersman said he told investigators. He heard an explosion, his first indication of the crash, she said.