Monday, August 28, 2006

Comair Crash Update

There's not much new to report on yesterday's Comair crash, except the revelation that the lights weren't working on the runway from which the airplane attempted to take off. This new detail casts additional suspicion upon what the pilots were thinking. To begin, they took off from the wrong runway--one used for private planes and not nearly long enough for a commercial jet--and now we learn that they did so in darkness (The National Transportation Safety Board hasn't yet indicated whether it's legal or appropriate for a plane to take off without runway lights). Also suspect is the behavior of the air controllers in the tower. Was there some kind of miscommunication? If so, what and how did it happen? We may not know for quite a long time--NTSB investigations can last up to a year. In the meantime, flyers have some something new to worry about (besides mechanical problems and terrorism)--pilot error and poor judgment.

N.B. Mentioned frequently in articles on the crash is the well known but nonetheless disturbing fact that less experienced pilots operate commuter flights. Something to fret about next time I fly out of Charlottesville.


Blogger Evan said...

Would you put a less experienced pilot on a 747 to Amsterdam? I'm equally bothered by the reality of pilot expertise on commuter flights, but these planes are simply easier to fly (including the way they handle aerodynamically in the air) and pilots have to start somewhere.

I was watching the initial reports yesterday afternoon on the crash and listened to live interviews with former Inspector General of the DOT Mary Schiavo and the current president of Blue Grass Airport. At one point, before it was confirmed that Comair 5191 took off from the wrong runway, Schiavo asked the airport head if the smaller runway was lit. He said it was a "daytime use runway" and therefore is not lit. From the reports I heard yesterday, the short runway had recently undergone updating and may have had some lighting, although they were not on yesterday morning.

Also keep in mind that the wrong (short) runway was numbered 26 and the correct runway numbered 22 - a possible source of an easy mix-up. Also, the ends of the two runways are very close to one another, and a plane would have to taxi right through the lineup for the wrong runway to reach and line up for takeoff on the longer, correct runway. Those are two possible sources of confusion right there.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

AHH...I just watched another interview with former Inspector General of the DOT Mary Schiavo. It turns out that the center lights and end lights were not working on the runway from which the jet was SUPPOSED to take off. So, there would have been two dark runways at the time of the accident...very interesting. That compounded with the proximity of the ends of these runways, as well as the similar numbering, all seem to add up.

5:35 PM  

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