Jet taxi route changed a week before crash: airport director

The taxi route for commercial jets using the main runway at a Kentucky airport where a weekend crash killed 49 people was altered a week earlier, the airport's director said Monday.

The taxi route for commercial jets using the main runway at a Kentucky airport where a weekend crash killed 49 people was altered a week earlier, the airport's director said Monday.

The old and new taxiways cross the shorter general aviation runway that Comair Flight 5191 mistakenly used for an attempted takeoff Sunday before crashing and burning in a field at the end of the strip, Blue Grass Airport executive director Michael Gobb told the Associated Press.

The repaving job was completed late the previous Sunday, Gobb said. It wasn't clear if the Comair pilots had been to the airport in Lexington since the change.

Teams of investigators are probing why the aircraft ended up using the 1,066-metre general aviation runway when it had been cleared for takeoff on the 2,133-metre main runway.

Experts say the Bombardier-built, twin-engine CRJ-100 jet would have required at least 1,524 metres to take off properly.

Two Canadians were among those killed in the crash. They've been identified as Ottawa horseman Lyle Anderson, 55, and his companion Christina Anderson, who is not related. Only the co-pilot survived.

No talk of shorter strip

"We will be taking a look at the weight of the aircraft, the runway available and where they should have been," U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member Deborah Hersman said Monday on NBC's Today show. "We certainly are going to be looking at how to prevent something like this from occurring in the future."

Later at a midday news briefing, Hersman said flight recorders showed that all of the conversations in the cockpit and the control tower leading up to takeoff referred to the main runway. There was no mention of the shorter strip.

She said the information they have to date indicates that the lights on the shorter runway were out of service on Sunday.

Asked why a plane would head down an unlit runway before dawn, Hersman replied: "That's a question that is central to our investigation and we're going to find out."

She said the cockpit voice recorder showed pre-flight preparations were normal, no problems with the aircraft were noted by the crew and confirmed a planned takeoff on the main runway.

Plane's first officer only survivor

The lone survivor, James M. Polehinke, the plane's first officer, was pulled from the cockpit just before Flight 5191 went up in flames after crashing. He remains in critical condition at the University of Kentucky Hospital.

Pieces of the wreckage were still scattered around the runway Monday.

"We are absolutely, totally committed to doing everything humanly possible to determine the cause of this accident," Comair president Don Bornhorst said Sunday.

Bornhorst said the plane's maintenance was up to date and all three flight crew members were experienced and had been flying it for some time.

The crash ended what has been called the "safest period in aviation history" in the U.S.

The last major crash occurred on Nov. 12, 2001, when an American Airlines flight ended up in a residential neighbourhood in New York City and 265 people died, including five people on the ground.

With files from the Associated Press