Preliminary investigation clearly reveals that Comair Flight 5191 attempted to takeoff from the wrong runway—a runway one-half as long as needed for the CRJ 100 Bombardier airplane.
It appears that the flight crew and the air traffic controller on duty believed the flight was taking off on Runway 22; instead, it attempted to takeoff on Runway 26 at Lexington, Kentucky’s Blue Grass Airport Sunday morning about 6:00 a.m., on August 27.
Retired Comair Captain Now Aviation Disaster Attorney
John Greaves, an aviation attorney with Baum Hedlund, and retired Comair Captain, flew in and out of Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport many times during his tenure with the airline. He comments that: “Whenever I taxied onto a runway for the purpose of taking off, among the first checks were the flight and systems instruments, for normality. One such instrument is the directional indicator that shows the direction of the nose of the aircraft in degrees from North similar to a compass.”
“The runways are delineated by numbers representing the heading of the runway. It is difficult for me to conceive the flight crew being lined up with the takeoff runway and starting their takeoff roll without being aware that the aircraft is heading 265 degrees and not the expected 226 degrees. The flight was apparently cleared for takeoff by Air Traffic Control on Runway 22, not Runway 26.”
Blue Grass Airport
Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport is a modern, well-equipped airport, suitable for most all weather, day or night airline operations. Current information indicates that there were some alterations made to the runways and taxiways the week before the tragic crash. However, the flight crew would have had access to that information and would be expected to be familiar with the current status of the airport layout through such publications as "Notams" (Notices to Airmen), which are part of the routine dispatch package of information each captain receives before each flight.
Runway 22 is 7,003 feet long. Runway 26 is 3,500 feet long. This aircraft, under these conditions, needed a minimum of 5,800 feet to effectuate the takeoff. When the aircraft reached the end of Runway 26 on its takeoff roll, it had insufficient flying speed for takeoff. It apparently ran off the end of the runway, crashing into trees and coming to rest about a mile from the end of the runway. The aircraft was loaded with fuel for the flight to Atlanta. The fuel ignited during the crash sequence, causing the deaths of all but one aboard the aircraft. There is no information available at this time regarding whether the engines and other systems were operating normally. There is not current information to suggest that weather was a factor.
Could Control Tower Action Have Prevented the Crash?
Although our investigation is at its beginning stages, it is safe to say that this tragedy should never have happened, and would never have happened if the Comair crew had been paying strict attention to their job, and were properly following the checklists which are required before takeoff.
Also, it is not too soon to be asking what the air traffic controller on duty did before the takeoff roll commenced, and was doing when it commenced. The specific instructions given to the flight by the controller, which will be revealed by the recordings routinely made, will probably provide key information to understand fully what happened. The central question to be investigated, from the point of view of the controller is: why did the controller not notice that the airplane had taxied onto the wrong runway? The airport configuration appears to give the tower an unobstructed view of the taxiways and runways. Had the air traffic controller noticed, surely that controller would have warned the flight crew that it could not takeoff from that short runway.
Ron Goldman, Baum Hedlund’s Senior Litigation Partner
Pilot / Aviation Accident Law & Torts Professor
Ron Goldman, the firm’s senior litigation partner (who recently negotiated a settlement which required an unprecedented public apology in the Air Midwest Flight 5481 crash), and the lawyer leading the firm’s investigation into this crash, said: “In every air crash investigation, the primary aim is to learn precisely what happened, toward the end of avoiding such tragedies in the future, and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”
Written by Ronald L. M. Goldman and John A. Greaves
August 28, 2006
Airline disaster attorney, John Greaves, a former captain for Comair, has flown in and out of Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, which is where Comair Flight 5191 crashed on Sunday, August 27.
Our firm's senior litigation partner, Ronald Goldman, is leading the firm's investigation into the Comair crash along with Mr. Greaves. Mr. Goldman, an attorney with about 35 years litigation experience representing air disaster victims, is also a pilot and former aviation law professor.
Baum Hedlund's Aviation Disaster Team has litigated more than 55 airline disasters over the past 20 years, including several involving runway issues. The firm has represented over 500 aviation disaster victims.
Sunday's accident in Lexington, Kentucky involved a Bombardier CRJ100 which crashed on takeoff after using the wrong runway. The cockpit crew mistakenly turned down Runway 26 when they should have taken off from Runway 22. Runway 22 is 7,003 feet long, while Runway 26 is 3,500 feet long, too short for the Comair plane.