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Sun, Aug 27, 2006

Aero-News Alert: Comair CRJ Down On Takeoff From KLEX

One Survivor Reported Among 50 Persons Onboard

ANN REALTIME Update 08.27.06 1830 EDT: At a press conference from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, KY, a spokesperson with the National Transportation Safety Board confirms the CRJ-100 involved in Sunday's accident was lined up on a heading of 260 when the plane crashed immediately after takeoff.

At least one news service also reports that sources have confirmed the pilot of Comair Flight 5191 took off at 6 am this morning from 3,500-foot runway 26, instead of the much-longer runway 22 typically used for commercial operations at that airport. Long before official word of that possibility was reported, Aero-News received word from several alert News-Spies the plane had departed from the shorter runway.

Citing evidence from the plane's two flight data recorders -- recovered from the wreckage of the plane -- NTSB spokeswoman Debbie Hersman added communications between pilots on the aircraft and air traffic controllers made reference to runway 22, but she refused to speculate if the plane had been cleared to takeoff on that runway... or if the plane had actually departed from runway 26.

MSNBC reports one controller was on duty in the KLEX tower at the time of the accident.

Both Runway 22 and 26 are accessed by Taxiway Alpha at the airport, with the turnoff for 26 coming before the threshold of the longer runway. In addition to being less than half the length of runway 22, the shorter runway is also half as wide -- 75 feet, as opposed to 150 feet. Runway 26 is also unlit.

It is not yet clear if the plane was able to become airborne before it crashed, although Hersman did say the plane impacted a perimeter fence off the end of the runway.

While runway 26 is 2,000-feet shorter than the recommended runway length for a CRJ-100 at MTOW, it is possible the aircraft was able to liftoff, but later stalled or experienced another problem that led to the crash.

ANN REALTIME Update 08.27.06 1315 EDT: At an press conference held earlier today from Blue Grass Airport, an official stated the wreckage of a 50-seat Comair CRJ-100 that crashed immediately after takeoff from the Lexington, KY airport earlier this morning is located just off the end of runway 8 -- fueling speculation the aircraft may have attempted to take off from the shorter of two runways available at the field.

Reporters at WKYT also confirm the wreckage is off the approach end to runway 8 -- on the extended centerline of reciprocal Runway 26. As reported earlier by ANN, Runway 26 is 3,500 feet in length, and is primarily used by general aviation aircraft.

Commercial traffic at the airport typically uses the longer 7,003-foot Runway 4/22. It is important to note officials say they still cannot confirm which runway the aircraft took off from.

According to Bombardier's own specifications for a CRJ-100, FAR take-off field length at sea level at maximum takeoff weight is 5,800 feet. At 47 passengers and three crewmembers, the aircraft was near its maximum passenger load; officials at the airport also stated regional flights heading to Atlanta typically takeoff from the airport with full fuel.

One glimmer of positive news from the scene of this tragedy -- as Blue Grass Airport officials report one survivor in the accident, believed to be first officer James Polehinke. The man is listed in critical condition.

Sadly, rescue operations have been called off at the scene... as the focus turns to recovering the bodies of those lost onboard the plane.

ANN REALTIME Update, 1040 EST, 082706: The NTSB has dispatched a "GO" Team to Lexington, Kentucky to investigate this morning's crash of a Comair regional jet carrying approximately 50 persons.

NTSB senior aviation investigator Joseph Sedor will serve as Investigator-in-Charge of this investigation. The team of about a dozen investigators will be accompanied by NTSB Member Debbie Hersman, who will serve as principal spokesperson while on scene. A team of NTSB officials from its Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance will set up a family assistance center in the Lexington area later today.

ANN REALTIME Update, 1019 EST, 082706: The previously reported survivor has been identified in some local media reports as the aircraft's First Officer. The aircraft was purchased in January of 2001 and received some form of 'routine scheduled' maintenance on Saturday, according to Comair officials. The Lexington Bluegrass Airport resumed operations at approximately 0900.

ANN REALTIME Update, 0913 EST, 082706: ANN has received a number of UNCONFIRMED reports from local pilots, and echoed by discussions with local media, that the Comair CRJ MAY have used a much shorter runway than intended. If Comair Flight 5191 used Runway 26 instead of 22, they used  a departure runway with only 3500 feet available, instead of the 7003' available on Runway 22.

ANN REALTIME Update, 0910 EST, 082706: ANN readers near the Bluegrass Airport report that one ambulance has taken a victim from the crash site to a local hospital, but no other possibility of any survivors have been reported. The survivor is being described has having been transported in critical condition and is described as a male. The aircraft involved was Comair Flight 5191, a CRJ-100 regional jet with 47 passengers and three crew members onboard.

Details remain sketchy at this point, but a Comair commuter CRJ, serving Delta Airlines, went down on takeoff at 0607 EST, from the Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, KY.

Weather appears to not be a factor at this time as the field was VFR reporting 6 mile viz in haze with a 5500' ceiling. The aircraft was engaged in a takeoff operation when it went down.

The aircraft went own about a mile from the airport and in a wooded area. The flight was enroute to Atlanta.

The aircraft is only described at this time as a 50 seat commuter but visuals suggest that the aircraft is a Bombardier CRJ (similar to the file photo below). Officials at the scene have confirmed that there are fatalities (as many as 50 according to one source) and have yet to report any survivors.

Conditions at KLEX At (Approximate) Time Of Accident

Temperature: 23.3°C (74°F)
Dewpoint: 20.0°C (68°F) [RH = 82%]
Pressure (altimeter): 30.04 inches Hg (1017.4 mb)
[Sea-level pressure: 1016.1 mb]
Winds: from the SW (220 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 6 miles (10 km)
Ceiling: 5500 feet AGL
Clouds: overcast cloud deck at 5500 feet AGL
Weather: HZ (haze)

CRJ  Specifications

Airframe

CRJ-100

CRJ-200LR

Max Cruise Speed

459 ktas

459 ktas

TOFL (@MGTOW)

5250 ft.

6180 ft.

Power Plant 

CF-34-3A1 

CF-34-3B1 

MGTOW

47,450 lbs.

53,000 lbs. 

Max Payload

12,800 lbs.

13,878 lbs.

Range (w/30 Pax)

980 nm

2005 nm

# of Passengers/FlightCrew

50/2

50/2


This is the worst US Air Carrier fatality since the loss of American Airlines Flight 587, which went down Nov. 12, 2001, in Queens, N.Y., with the loss of 265 people, including five on the ground. A little over a year later, a Beech 1900 went down following departure on Jan. 8, 2003, flying under Air Midwest livery, at the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport -- all 21 aboard were killed.

More recently, a 1947 Grumman G-73 flying for Chalk's Ocean Airways also went down on December 19th, 2005, shortly after takeoff from Miami Beach when a catastrophic wing separation brought the aircraft down, killing 18 passengers and the two flightcrew. That plane had undergone extensive modification in 1979.

The most recent accident involving a CRJ occured on November 21, 2004, as a China Eastern-Yunnan Airlines Bombardier CRJ-200 impacted shortly after departure. The accident claimed the lives of 47 passengers and 6 crew members, as well as two persons on the ground. That accident has resulted in litigation claiming problems with the powerplants.

According to Comair documentation, the carrier is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines and is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Comair "had a major impact on commercial aviation when it introduced regionals jets to North America in 1993. Comair's introduction of regional jets and its rapid growth helped lead to expanded air service for communities across the nation. The company became the first regional airline to operate an all-jet fleet." Founded in 1977, Comair currently operates 168 CRJs and employs more than 6,000 aviation professionals and flies to cities in the United States, Canada and the Bahamas.

ANN will update this story as details become available.

FMI: www.comair.com, www.bluegrassairport.com

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