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NTSB To Open Files On Comair Crash

WASHINGTON (AP) - Investigators have acknowledged for months
that the deadliest American aviation disaster in a half-decade
began when a passenger jet tried to take off in the pre-dawn
darkness from a Lexington, Ky., runway that was unlit and too
short.
What they haven't said is when - and even if - the pilots
realized it.
That question and potentially many others surrounding Comair
Flight 5191 could be answered Wednesday when the National
Transportation Safety Board opens the public docket on the Aug. 27
crash that killed 49 of 50 people on board.
"When all of this material is released, it refreshes the
memories of these family members about Aug. 27 - and does so in a
very stressful way," said Chicago attorney Robert Clifford, who is
representing several families in lawsuits against Comair.
For the first time, the public will be able to see transcripts
of what the Comair pilots told each other in the cockpit during the
ill-fated flight and what the air traffic controller on duty told
the pilots from the tower. The Federal Aviation Administration also
is to release the audio of the tower tapes.
The docket will also contain the findings of NTSB groups that
went to Lexington to examine such elements as weather, airplane
design, airport signage and crew experience. Also promised are the
transcripts of NTSB interviews with several key players, including
the controller.
Unclear, however, is whether board members ever interviewed
first officer James Polehinke, the lone survivor of the crash.
Polehinke, who lost a leg and suffered brain damage, has expressed
his condolences to the families, but his mother says her son
doesn't remember any of the events of Aug. 27.
In a news release last week, NTSB stressed that all the
information being unsealed at 11 a.m. Wednesday is "factual in
nature and does not provide analysis." The analysis could follow
soon, though.
In November, the NTSB said it would not hold a public hearing on
the plane crash - a decision than surprised some aviation experts
who cited the numerous safety issues the disaster raised.
As a result, the board is releasing the bulk of the documents
Wednesday - earlier than originally expected - with other pieces to
follow in the coming months. Board members could vote on a cause or
causes by late spring or early summer.
"I think they pretty much knew what happened from day one,"
said Nick Bentley, who owns the farmland near the Lexington airport
where the plane crashed. "There's no big mystery. How it happened,
I assume, was just a series of unrelated events - a little mistake
here, a little confusion there."
Numerous lawsuits have been filed accusing Comair of negligence.
However, the airline has sued Blue Grass Airport and the Federal
Aviation Administration asking that they share blame.
A week before the crash, the taxiways at Blue Grass were altered
as part of a construction project, and the maps and charts used in
the cockpits of Comair and other airlines weren't updated. The FAA
did notify airlines of the changes through a separate announcement.
"It is Comair's obligation and desire to provide safe
transportation, but we also believe all parties involved in air
transportation share a responsibility for safety," Comair
spokeswoman Kate Marx said.
Although it's too early to tell what, if any, sweeping changes
the NTSB will suggest to avoid a future incident like Comair 5191,
the government has already proposed two small ones.
NTSB has asked pilots to always check their runway headings
before preparing for takeoff. And, earlier this month, FAA
suggested that airlines find ways to get cockpits the latest
airport design maps, reflecting up-to-date construction.
"Airport construction is always an issue for us, and not just
because of Lexington," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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