CBSN

Runway Route Changed Before Ky. Crash

This aerial view of Blue Grass Airport taken Sunday, Aug. 27, 2006, in Lexington, Ky., shows a short runway crossing the longer runway at the airport.
AP Photo/Al Behrman
The taxi route for commercial jets using Blue Grass Airport's main runway was altered a week before Comair Flight 5191 took the wrong runway and crashed, killing all but one of the 50 people aboard, the airport's director said Monday.

Both the old and new taxiways cross over the shorter general aviation runway where the commuter jet tried to take off early Sunday, Blue Grass Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb told The Associated Press.

The runway repaving was completed late on the previous Sunday, Gobb said. It wasn't clear if the Comair pilots aboard Flight 5191 had been there since the change. Comair operates that regular 6 a.m. weekend flight to Atlanta from Lexington, but another commuter airline takes over that commute during the week.

"It's slightly different than it used to be," said Charlie Monette, president of Aero-Tech flight school based at the airport. "Could there have been some confusion associated with that? That's certainly a possibility."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Conversations between the plane's cockpit and the person staffing the control tower before dawn Sunday morning mentioned only the airport's main commercial strip, Runway 22, NTSB member Debbie Hersman said earlier Monday.

The pilots tried to lift off, but the plane clipped trees, then quickly crashed in a field and burst into flames, killing everyone aboard but a critically injured co-pilot who was pulled from the cracked cockpit.

Recovery teams worked late into the night Sunday and have retrieved the bodies of all 49 people who died in the crash in Lexington, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports.




At the same time, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have been looking at the black boxes - though the cause of the crash was no mystery.

It was the location of the wreckage that first gave investigators a strong clue as to what went wrong. The charred remains of the commuter flight came to rest at the end of runway 26, a runway the plane was not supposed to use.

Sources tell CBS News an air traffic controller cleared the flight to take off on runway 22, a lighted strip that two other planes had just departed. Inexplicably, the pilots turned on to the wrong runway, a much shorter airstrip used for smaller, private planes.