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Archive for Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Report: Pilots had no alcohol, illegal drugs in bodies

Lone survivor of Kentucky crash in serious condition

September 26, 2006

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— The pilot and the co-pilot of deadly Comair Flight 5191 had not been drinking or using illicit drugs, according to federal investigators searching for the cause of the Aug. 27 crash that killed 49 people in Lexington.

Co-pilot James Polehinke, who was piloting the plane during take-off, did have "a low level" of the over-the-counter decongestant pseudoephedrine in his blood, according to an update issued Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board. Polehinke was the only survivor of the crash; he is listed in serious condition at the University of Kentucky hospital, where he had his severely injured left leg amputated Sept. 14.

When Flight 5191 ran out of space on Runway 22, which was too short for the takeoff, markings on the ground showed that "all three landing gear were on the ground," the update said.

The NTSB did not say whether the pseudoephedrine could have affected Polehinke's performance. Side effects of the decongestant can include nervousness, dizziness, drowsiness and increased blood pressure. And packages warn users to use caution when driving or operating machinery.

"We're not in a position to analyze the amount he had in his system at this point," said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams.

The NTSB said the pilots' actions, as well as the airport taxiway, runway markings, air traffic controller's workload and control tower staffing are being evaluated as possible contributors to the accident. Completed reports will be released in the next several months, the update said.

According to the update:

l The Atlanta-bound jet crashed about 6:07 a.m. on take-off from Blue Grass Airport when the plane attempted to take off. It was the third flight within 20 minutes. The two previous flights took off without incident from Runway 22; Comair 5191 was also cleared to taxi to that runway, but pilot Jeffrey Clay instead stopped at Runway 26, which was too short.

l The plane stopped for about 45 seconds near the end of Runway 26, then was cleared for take-off. In about 36 seconds the plane taxied onto the runway, turned and powered up to take off. The flight data recorder, which was recovered along with the cockpit voice recorder, indicated the plane took about 32 seconds to reach the end of the runway at about 137 knots and hit the ground 4 seconds later, with all three landing gear down.

l The air traffic controller, who has not been named, turned away from the window to perform a traffic count. "He did not witness the accident, but heard the crash, turned around and saw fire, and immediately activated the emergency response," according to the report.

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