Outside the terminal lobby at midmorning, Paul Richardson of Winchester, Kentucky, had come to the airport because he believed a friend from Florida was on the plane.
"He took the earlier flight so he could get back to family," Richardson said. He said airport officials were taking friends and family on buses to the nearby hotel.
Two sheriff's deputies guarded the entrance of a nearby hotel where family members of passengers were being brought.
Rick Queen, who works for Turfway Realty in Lexington, said his father-in-law, Les Morris, was on the flight. He said Comair brought all the family members into a room at a Lexington hotel, told them the plane had crashed and family members died, then gave them a phone number to call.
"This is one of the worst handled events in Lexington history," Queen said as he left.
Kelly Heyer, the flight attendant, lived in the Cincinnati area and recently had been appointed as a base representative for the flight attendant union, said Tracey Riley, a union recording secretary and fellow Comair flight attendant.
"He was a standup individual," Riley said. "He was very professional, loved the job."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President George W. Bush, who is spending a long weekend at his family's summer home on the Maine coast, was being briefed on the crash.
"The president was deeply saddened by the news of the plane crash in Kentucky today," she said. "His sympathies are with the many families of the victims of this tragedy."
The crash marks the end of what has been called the "safest period in aviation history" in the United States. There has not been a major crash since Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 plunged into a residential neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York City, killing 265 people, including five on the ground.
On Jan. 8, 2003, an Air Midwest commuter plane crashed on takeoff at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, killing all 21 aboard.
Last December, a seaplane operated by Chalk's Ocean Airways crashed off Miami Beach, Florida, when its right wing separated from the fuselage shortly after takeoff, killing the 18 passengers and two crew members. That plane, a Grumman G-73 Turbo Mallard, was built in 1947 and modified significantly in 1979.
The NTSB's last record of a CRJ crash was on November 21, 2004, when a China Eastern-Yunnan Airlines Bombardier crashed shortly after takeoff. The 6 crew members and 47 passengers on the CRJ-200 were killed, and there were two fatalities on the ground.
Associated Press Writer Leslie Miller in Washington and Harry Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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Investigators were looking into whether the plane had taken off from the wrong runway and discovered too late that they did not have the length they expected.
A jet mistakenly trying to take off on a runway that was too short crashed into a field Sunday and burst into flames, killing 49 people.
Aerial photos of the pre-dawn crash and statements by federal investigators indicate that Comair Flight 5191 used the Lexington airport's secondary, unlighted runway.
Co-pilot James Polehinke did have a 'low level' of the decongestant pseudoephedrine in his blood.