Comair Flight 5191

by nph | January 18th, 2010

While taking off from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, on Aug. 26, 2006, Comair Flight 5191 crashed, killing 49 of the 50 people on board. The flight crew of the Bombardier CL-600-2B19 was instructed to take off from runway 22 but instead lined up the airplane on runway 26 and began the takeoff roll. The airplane ran off the end of the runway and impacted the airport perimeter fence, trees, and terrain. Only the flight’s first officer survived, and he received serious injuries.

A transcript of the flight voice recorder indicated that by the time the crew realized that the runway they were on was too short for a proper takeoff, it was already too late.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was the flight crewmembers’ “failure to use available cues and aids to identify the airplane’s location on the airport surface during taxi and their failure to cross-check and verify that the airplane was on the correct runway before takeoff.” The NTSB also said that a factor contributing to the accident was “the flight crew’s nonpertinent conversation during taxi, which resulted in a loss of positional awareness.” Also cited as a factor was the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) failure to require that all runway crossings be authorized only by specific air traffic control (ATC) clearances.

The flight crewmembers failed to recognize that they were initiating a takeoff on the wrong runway because they did not cross-check and confirm the airplane’s position on the runway before takeoff.

The controller at Blue Grass Airport seemed to play a large role in the crash as well. According to the NTSB report, the controller did not notice that the flight crew had stopped the airplane short of the wrong runway because he did not anticipate any problems with the airplane’s taxi to the correct runway and thus was paying more attention to his radar responsibilities than his tower responsibilities. Also, the controller did not detect the flight crew’s attempt to take off on the wrong runway because, instead of monitoring the airplane’s departure, he performed a lower-priority administrative task that could have waited until he transferred responsibility for the airplane to the next air traffic control facility.

As a result of the crash and subsequent analysis, the NTSB made numerous recommendations, including crewmembers on the flight deck to positively confirm and cross-check the airplane’s location at the assigned departure runway, the installation of aircract cockpit moving map displayws that alert pilots when a takeoff is attempted on a runway other than what is intended, better markings on runways and taxiways, and a recommendation that controllers not perform administrative tasks when moving aircraft are in the controller’s area of responsibility.

Just this past December—more than three years after the crash of Flight 5191, a jury awarded $7.1 million to the family of Bryan Keith Woodward in a wrongful death suit. Jamie Hebert, 40, and her two daughters, Mattie-Kay Hebert,15, and Lauren Madison Hebert, 19, all of the Lafayette, Louisiana, area are the only family members of the crash victims who declined to settle their lawsuit against the Cincinnati-based airline. Still to come is a separate jury trial to determine whether Comair is guilty of gross negligence, and thus whether punitive damages should be awarded to Woodward’s family. The amounts of the settlements with the other passengers’ estates are confidential.