James Polehinke, Sole Survivor
On August 27, 2006, Comair Flight 5191 crashed during an attempted takeoff from the wrong runway at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, killing all 49 aboard save the co-pilot, James Polehinke, who has now become the subject of a documentary. A Chicago filmmaker will feature Polehinke in the movie "Sole Survivor," which creates accounts of the lives of people who became sole survivors of commuter aircraft crashes. It will be released this fall. Polehinke was at the controls of Comair's CRJ-100 as it sped into the grass off the end of the airport's shorter, narrower Runway 26. It had been cleared for the twice-as-wide and twice-as-long Runway 22. Polehinke awoke from a coma after the crash to learn he had facial fractures, a complex fracture of the pelvis, two fractures of the spine, and broken bones in his left leg, right foot and right hand. The film may show that wasn't the worst of it.
Polehinke had been handed the controls by the captain, who had taxied the jet into position. He says his memory of the early morning flight stops after checklist completion. He ultimately lost his left leg as a result of his injuries. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman once said of the crash, "There would be no moment when we could point to one thing and say 'Aha, that is what caused this accident.'" The NTSB ultimately found "the flight crewmembers' failure to use available cues and aids to identify the airplane's location on the airport surface" as the probable cause of the accident. The NTSB also found other complicating factors. In an interview associated with the documentary, Polehinke's wife, Ida, said, "He would have rather died. His conviction as a pilot was so great that he'd rather gone down with the ship." When asked by a local news station about Polehinke's condition, the filmmaker who had worked with Polehinke for more than a year said candidly, "Oh yeah, yeah ... I think Jim is in his own living hell."