Dark Runway “Weird” To Comair Pilot


The flying pilot in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 noted the runway was “weird with no lights” as he rolled the aircraft down the wrong runway. The cockpit voice recorder transcripts released by the NTSB also show co-pilot James Polehinke and captain Jefferey Clay talked about their kids and their dogs as they taxied to line up on that runway at the Lexington, Ky., airport (LEX) on the morning of Aug. 27. The chatter was in violation of an FAA regulation that bans “nonessential cockpit conversation” during taxi, takeoff and landing. The last word recorded was Clay saying “Whoa” just before the Bombardier regional jet smashed through a fence at the end of 3,500-foot Runway 26, became briefly airborne and crashed in a field, killing 49 people — everyone on board except Polehinke, who lost a leg and suffered brain damage. The NTSB documents also identify Christopher Damron as the lone air traffic controller on duty at the time. As had already been widely reported, Damron’s solitude was against FAA regulations. He cleared the aircraft to the correct runway and then turned away to do some paperwork, not watching as the airplane made a wrong turn. The FAA has since corrected the staffing situation at LEX and other airports, but the NTSB report appears to refocus the investigation on the actions of the pilots. Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB, told The Associated Press that while some cockpit chatter is normal, there was more than usual on Flight 5191 and “they will identify this extraneous conversation as a contributing factor.” The NTSB also revealed that at least 16 people survived the crash but died in the subsequent fire.