WASHINGTON,July 26 – Cincinnati attorney Stanley Chesley suspects that federal investigators will cite pilot error as the main cause of the Comair crash that killed 49 people last August when they release their report on the accident Thursday.
But Chesley fears the National Transportation Safety Board will fail to address one of the key issues – the fire that erupted after the crash and may have been responsible for many of the deaths.
Chesley has filed lawsuits on behalf of two of the crash victims' family members. He said he thinks further investigation should examine the fire that erupted in the passenger cabin after it crashed into a field near Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.
“Most planes,when they crash,come out of air at a high speed,so fire is not a major issue,” Chesley said. “Here it is a relevant factor because the plane was only off the ground by about five feet,and many people died not as a result of impact injuries but because of flames and fire.”
The NTSB will release its findings and state a probable cause for the crash during a meeting in Washington.
The plane was only airborne for a few seconds after mistakenly taking off from a too-short runway in the predawn darkness. The plane went off the end of the runway and was briefly airborne before clipping some trees,hitting the ground and bursting into flames.
Chesley is investigating the Canadian-built CRJ-100 model Bombardier. He said the plane's design and construction might have contributed to the fire and caused passengers who survived the initial impact to perish.
The aluminum cockpit did not contain any plastic items,and it did not melt like the passenger area did,Chesley said. The jet's coach area,which contained easily ignitable objects such as life vests and seats,quickly caught fire and the aluminum melted.
The co-pilot was pulled from the cockpit alive. He is the only survivor.
Chesley is using civil litigation to delve further into the case to see if these factors were overlooked.
Chesley said he has no problem with the work the NTSB does,but sometimes they don't go far enough.
Chesley said he thinks Comair is also liable for the crash.
Kate Marx,a Comair spokeswoman,said Comair will not be privy to the NTSB's findings until they are released,but the company hopes the review includes shared responsibility across the parties.
“Throughout the investigation,we have acknowledged our responsibility to safely transport our passengers,but our willingness to evaluate our own procedures should not overshadow other contributing factors,” Marx said.
There was only one air traffic controller on duty when Flight 5191 took off,which violates the FAA's standard that air and ground responsibilities should be divided between two people. The controller also had less than two hours of sleep between shifts.
Another factor that potentially contributed to the crash was the confusing signage at the airport,which may not have clearly indicated that the main runway was closed for construction. The two pilots also did not receive radio updates that morning indicating there was an alternate route to the main runway,and they may not have followed Comair's rules for takeoff,which require pilots to maintain a distraction-free cockpit during takeoff.
The plane's cockpit voice recorder captured the two pilots talking about their families,work and other subjects.
Comair has 196 daily departures out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport,which serves as the airline's main hub.