Families of crew sue airport, FAA: They say responsibility for fatal crash is shared

Aug. 30--The sole survivor and families of crew members of Comair Flight 5191 have sued Blue Grass Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration and employees of the airport and FAA, alleging they share blame for what happened in the crash of Flight 5191.

Amy Clay, widow of Capt. Jeffrey Clay, First Officer James Polehinke and the family of flight attendant Kelly Heyer, filed separate lawsuits last week in U.S. District Court in Lexington. The suits allege that Blue Grass Airport, the FAA, several individuals and a contractor hired to provide airline pilots with updated maps of airports share responsibility for the crash.

Polehinke also has sued Tetra Tech Inc., the engineer and contractor that worked on Blue Grass Airport's reconstruction project at the time of the accident. Earlier this week in Fayette Circuit Court, Polehinke filed a lawsuit against AVCON, the manufacturer of the runway and taxiway lights at the airport. The Heyer family has also sued two other subcontractors on the construction project.

Comair Flight 5191 crashed after trying to take off from the wrong runway on Aug. 27, 2006, killing 49 of 50 people on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board, in its investigation of the accident, has cited pilot error. It concluded that Clay and Polehinke failed to confirm their position on the runway, ignored cues that they were in the wrong place and chatted about issues not related to takeoff procedures.

Amy Clay has said in interviews that her husband and Polehinke, the one survivor of the accident, were not solely responsible for the crash and that there were multiple problems that led the pilots to taxi to the wrong runway that morning. Polehinke has said little about the accident and is recovering in Florida from extensive injuries he suffered in the crash.

The lawsuits allege that the airport failed to notify pilots of changes made to taxiways because of a runway construction project, and that the signage at the airport was erratic and confusing and did not comply with commonly accepted standards.

Moreover, the FAA had only one air traffic controller working at the time of the accident, even though two controllers were supposed to be on duty at all times according to FAA policy, the lawsuits say.

Amy Caudill, a spokeswoman for Blue Grass Airport, said yesterday that the airport has been cleared of wrongdoing in the crash.

"Since the crash of Flight 5191, both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have thoroughly inspected Blue Grass Airport," Caudill said. "The NTSB's comprehensive, impartial investigation indicated that neither the Airport Board nor any of its employees were responsible for this terrible accident. FAA inspections confirmed the airport's compliance with FAA standards for signage and markings."

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said the agency had no comment on the suits at this time.

The lawsuits also allege that Jeppesen Sanderson, a corporation that provides maps and data on airports to airline pilots, is negligent in Clay's and Heyer's deaths and for Polehinke's injuries. According to the lawsuits, Jeppesen was notified of the changes at the airport on June 23 but did not issue new maps of the runway construction and change in taxiways until Aug. 29, two days after the accident.

Representatives of Tetra Tech and Jeppesen declined to comment, citing company policy against commenting on ongoing litigation.the tragedy of flight 5191

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