Investigators have acknowledged for months that the worst U.S. plane disaster in five years 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, the NTSB stressed that all the information being unsealed Wednesday would be "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 that surprised some aviation experts who cited the numerous safety issues the disaster raised.
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.
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.
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