Runway's Lack of Lights May Have Caused Confusion

It was unclear Monday just when the pilots might have realized they were on a runway too short for their plane.

On Sunday, Gobb confirmed that the route planes at Blue Grass Airport follow in taxiing from the terminal to the runways also had been altered as a result of improvements at the airport on Aug. 20.

Meanwhile, a former Delta Airlines pilot said Monday that flying out of Blue Grass Airport can be confusing and that straying onto the wrong runway would have been "an easier mistake than people generally would think."

"It looks like a no-brainer ... but it is possible to be kind of confused," Russ Whitney said.

Among other things, Whitney said, the main Runway 22 has a crown or hump, so that pilots taking off cannot initially see the southern two-thirds of the runway. As a result, Whitney said, Runway 22 and the shorter Runway 26 can appear to be the same length.

"I've taxied out there and gotten kind of confused, and had to make absolutely sure that I was on the right runway," he said. "I have said to the co-pilot, `Is this the right one?'"

Whitney flew for Delta for 27 years before retiring in 2004, and was a Navy pilot before that. He said he had flown in and out of Blue Grass more than 20 times during his career.

There was an incident at Blue Grass Airport in November 1993 in which a plane mistakenly lined up on Runway 26 instead of Runway 22. The tower caught the error before the plane could take off.

Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said pilots recommended after that incident that an instruction sheet with charts be created because the runway design was confusing. But Schiavo said she found no record that such a sheet was ever developed. Mike Gobb, the airport executive director, said Monday night that he was not aware of that case.

Speaking to a packed press conference at Hilton Suites Monday afternoon, NTSB board member Hersman declined to speculate about what might have happened in the crash, limiting her answers to what is being reviewed in the investigation.

Among other things, she said, investigators are developing a "history of the crew" that was flying the plane. She said that would include everything from toxicology studies that would reveal any alcohol or drug use leading up to the crash to how much rest crew members got before taking off. Essentially, they want to know how the crew spent the 72 hours before the crash, she said.

Comair President Don Bornhorst said the Flight 5191 crew had been "on a legal rest period far beyond what is required," but declined to give specifics. Officials from Comair and the NTSB also declined to say what time the crew arrived to prepare for Sunday morning's flight.

A Lexington hotel shuttle driver who said he drove the three flight crew members - pilot Jeffrey Clay, 35, first officer Polehinke, and flight attendant Kelly Heyer, 28 - on Sunday morning said he noticed nothing unusual.

"It was all pretty normal; it's usually a quiet ride that time in the morning, just small talk," said Jarrod Moore, who works for Lexington's Radisson Plaza Hotel, where the crew stayed.

Hersman said teams were continuing to gather evidence, and were using GPS instruments to locate debris.

Investigators also are looking at the plane's General Electric jet engines. Hersman said indications are that the engines were "in good working order."

Grose, the NTSB member, said psychological factors could be as important as physical evidence. Physical evidence so far indicates that the pilots took off from the wrong runway and ran out of room, Grose said, but does not explain why that happened.

"Did anybody in the tower notice that they didn't go to Runway 22?" Grose asked. "There's a lot of psychological things you look at. ... We would like to think everybody goes by the book, but they don't."

Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aerospace engineering at Saint Louis University, contended that the control tower should have made sure Flight 5191 was on the right runway before giving it permission to take off. Planes are supposed to be under the tower's control at all times when they are on the ground, he said.

Hersman said one person was on duty in the control tower Sunday morning, which she said was not unusual on the midnight shift at Blue Grass Airport.

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