Comair Flight 5191: Pilot Error Remains Focus Of Investigation In Lexington, Kentucky Crash But Other Factors May Have Contributed

The investigation into the August 27, 2006 crash of a Comair airplane at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky continues to focus on pilot error as a result of the flight crew negligently selecting and taking off from the wrong runway. Other factors, however, such as air traffic control conduct; the design and markings of the airport taxiways; the information depicted on charts used by the pilots and design issues involving the Bombardier CRJ-100 aircraft may have contributed to this tragedy. While ultimate responsibility for this accident must lie with the flight crew and the airlines, Comair and Delta, had any one of a series of events not occurred, this tragedy might have been avoided.

Pilot Error: The flight crew's failure to select the correct runway for takeoff is inexcusable. Kreindler partner Daniel O. Rose recently inspected the Kentucky Blue Grass airport to examine what the pilots would have seen as they taxied to, and took off from, the wrong Runway 26. The photos, taken during the daytime for better viewing, show the various markings and signs that told the pilots they were taxiing to, and lined up on the wrong runway.

Air Traffic Control: Air traffic controllers may have been part of the chain of events that lead to the crash for failing to identify the flight crews' mistake in taxiing to and taking off from the wrong runway. The FAA failed to staff the airport's control tower with a second controller, as the FAA's own procedures required. See order. A second "set of eyes" may have better enabled the controllers to fulfill their duty to scan runways for safety issues as the air traffic control manual sets forth. See 3-1-12 of ATC Manual.

Airport Signs/Charts: The adequacy of the signage and barriers on the airfield that should have helped the flight crew taxi to the correct runway may also be a factor in the chain of events. [see views of the airfield] The airport charts the flight crew was using may also play a role if they did not accurately depict the airfield, including its taxiways, as it existed at the time of the crash.

Survivability: The question of whether the passengers aboard the CRJ aircraft survived the crash but died in the subsequent fire because they were unable to evacuate the aircraft will be closely examined. In the United States, there have been at least four catastrophic post-crash fires over the past two decades that killed the occupants of the airplane even though they lived through the initial disaster. "Aircraft manufacturers must design planes so that passengers who survive a crash can quickly and safely evacuate the aircraft. The design of this particular airplane will surely be examined in this light," said Robert Spragg, a Kreindler partner and a former military pilot who handled cases arising out of the 1997 crash of Comair Flight 3272.

Legal Issues/Compensation: While liability of the flight crew and airlines seems clear, the other issues discussed above could complicate a claim made by the families. While it is hoped that their insurer will provide fair and prompt compensation to the victims' families, that is not always the case in these multi-party aviation mass disaster cases. It is not an uncommon tactic for defendants to "point the finger" at each other to delay or diminish the families' right to obtain just and full compensation for their loss.

The Kreindler firm has had significant experience and success in dealing with such situations and ensuring that our clients obtain fair and timely compensation. Indeed, Kreindler was involved in a prior case against Comair, arising out of the crash of a Comair Embraer EMB 120 aircraft in 1997 that killed 29 people, where Kreindler was able to secure significant confidential settlements for the families of the passengers we represented. In that case, there was a significant dispute between Comair and the aircraft manufacturer.

Kreindler's expertise and track record in obtaining some of the highest recoveries in aviation accidents is unparalleled.

Founded in 1950, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP is nationally recognized as the first and most prominent aviation law firm in the nation. With offices in New York and Los Angeles, the firm has been the leading plaintiff legal counsel on hundreds of aviation cases, including major ones such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pan Am Lockerbie Flight 103, Korean Airlines Flight 007, TWA Flight 800 and American Airlines Flight 587, and many cases of small private and commercial crashes. The leading legal textbook in the aviation field, "Aviation Accident Law," is authored by members of the firm.

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