Breaking silence of mourning: For nearly a year since the crash of Comair Flight 5191, Amy Clay, wife of pilot Jeff Clay, has been quiet while her late husband takes the blame. No longer.

Aug. 18--BURLINGTON -- Four hours into a July hearing in which the National Transportation Safety Board debated the cause of the crash of Comair Flight 5191, NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker sidled up to pilot Jeffrey Clay's wife, Amy, and extended his...


Aug. 18--BURLINGTON -- Four hours into a July hearing in which the National Transportation Safety Board debated the cause of the crash of Comair Flight 5191, NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker sidled up to pilot Jeffrey Clay's wife, Amy, and extended his hand.

Photographers waited nearby. Amy's brother-in-law James stepped into the breach, and Amy turned to face Rosenker.

"I am not your photo op," she said, coldly.

"Now," she recalled this week, "I'm a nice Southern girl, and I was polite enough. But I said if you want to talk to me, fine; but we'll do it alone and not after you've spent four hours hammering the father of my kids, finding new ways to call him stupid."

Amy Clay is now and forever the pilot's wife. She is OK with that if it means that she will be required to stand up for him whenever he is under attack. He has been since the day of the crash and will likely be for a long time now that the NTSB has concluded that the crash occurred because the pilot and co-pilot failed to make sure they were taking off from the correct runway.

She will not let such a conclusion stand without rebuttal.

"If it were turned around," she said in an interview at her home in Northern Kentucky, "he would not quit on me."

And so, almost a year after the Comair plane crashed at Blue Grass Airport after taking off from the wrong runway, she continues with what she calls "her agenda." After remaining quiet for a year, it is time for her to go on record, before the one-year anniversary of the crash, to be Jeff's wingman.

It is something, she admits, that she was too angry to do in July after the NTSB meeting.

Air transportation in this country, she says, was designed to be a system of interdependent parts, of which her husband was only one. She says that it was this system that conspired to deprive him of necessary information, ultimately letting him and his passengers down. She adds that the NTSB's single-villain conclusion conveys the message that "nobody but the crew is responsible" and that, if that's the case, "they better be able to read minds."

If that were true, she says again, "the only thing the airport needs is a windsock."

She is not finished. The easiest thing in the world to do, says the 35-year-old widow, is "blame the dead guy." That way, she adds, nobody has to fix anything, nobody has to spend anything, and nobody has to answer to anything because, they have said, as long as Jeff Clay is not flying you, you'll be fine.

"Every time I hear that 'the flight crew failed to use available cues and aids to identify the airplane's location,' I want to ask if getting up in the air was supposed to be some kind of a puzzle he was supposed to figure out by way of reading minds."

On the morning of the crash, Capt. Jeff Clay did not have an updated map of the airport's runways, which had been altered as part of a major construction project. Also, she reminds, he had no one watching from the tower. The lone air traffic controller on duty (there were supposed to be two controllers) turned his back after clearing the plane to take off.

Here was a guy, she says, who has a perfect flight record, who was meticulous and cautious and nothing like the cowboy she's heard him described as.

"I know a lot of people who have left the business this last year," she says, referring to pilots and flight officers. "Because they say, 'If this could happen to Jeff, it could happen to me, and I don't want to orphan my kids.' "

A morning of panic

On the morning of Aug. 27 last year, Amy Clay had gotten up at 6 a.m. She was still breast-feeding her 3-month-old, who had her first cold, so nobody was sleeping that well. As soon as she could, she and her two girls went back to sleep.

Around 8 a.m., a friend called and told her to turn on the TV. "That's really strange," she thought, not imagining that was Jeff's plane. The friend asked which flight Jeff was piloting that morning. "I couldn't remember. I should have had a clue, though, because of the panic in his voice."

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