Crash investigators in Lexington, Kentucky Sunday gathered information from the wreckage and data recorders of a Comair CRJ-100 that crashed and burned during a pre-sunup takeoff shortly after 6 a.m. at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport. Forty-nine of the 50 people onboard died in the wreckage, one -- the co-pilot -- was pulled free. The airport offers crossing runways: 3,500 by 75-foot Runway 26, and 7,001 by 150-foot Runway 22. The aircraft damaged an eight-foot fence and scarred earth off the end of Runway 26. It came to rest less than a mile beyond the end of that runway. Bombardier's CRJ-200 (and -100) model does not have leading edge slats and takeoff distance under standard conditions at maximum weight is listed at 5800-feet. (Delta and Bombardier Sunday offered conflicting reports that the aircraft was a CJR-100 and a CRJ-200, respectively.) When questioned about the clearance given to the flight, an NTSB spokeswoman said yesterday, "there were references to Runway 22," and stated that data indicates the aircraft aligned to 260 (matching the shorter runway) for the takeoff roll. She declined adding more details (analysis of voice and data recorders will begin in earnest, today). The shift for the one controller scheduled for duty at Lexington early on Sunday mornings would end at 6:30 a.m, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
En route to Atlanta, it is not yet clear if the aircraft ever left the ground and the crash may have left the aircraft somewhat intact prior to the post-crash fire. First officer James Polehinke, 44, was pulled from the shattered cockpit by police officer Bryan Jared and two airport officers, John Sallee and James "Pete" Maupin. The men were on the scene minutes after the crash. Jared was treated for burns to his arms suffered during the rescue, according to The Associated Press. Polehinke was in critical condition after surgery at last report Sunday.
Weather was benign at the time of the crash. It had rained earlier but it had stopped by the time of the crash at 6:07 a.m. and winds were light. It was, however, dark and a Friday NOTAM suggests the operating condition of certain runway lights may be in question. The taxi from terminal to runway is short and the shorter Runway 26 would have been the first reached by the aircraft en route to 22. The flight's captain was hired by Comair in 1999 and had been a captain since 2004. The first officer had been flying with Comair since 2002. By the FAA's count, there has not been a major crash in the United States since Flight 587 crashed on Long Island, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2001. (Not included in that count, an Air Midwest Beech 1900D crashed at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in 2003, killing all 21 aboard.) In Kentucky yesterday, Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn told the Chicago Tribune, "From what I can see and where the bodies were placed, there was some reaction," suggesting passengers may have survived the impact, but not the fire.