Comair Flight 5191

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Comair Flight 5191

Comair Flight 5191

An hour before sunrise in clearing weather, Comair Flight 5191, bound for Atlanta with 50 souls aboard, ran out of runway. After less than a minute aloft, it fell a mile west of the airport, casting 50,000 pounds of debris and jet fuel about as it burned mercilessly to a halt.

Comair's Flight 5191 took off from a runway that was too short in Kentucky last summer and crashed, killing 49 people. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation yielded more details about the August 27 crash, but found no definitive reason for it. Pieced together from transcripts and experts interviewed after the report was released, the details yield a host of ergonomic issues that are likely to be cited as contributing factors in inquiries yet to come.

The jet was supposed to take off from the 7,000-foot main runway, called runway 22, but instead used 3,500-foot runway 26, which is meant only for smaller planes.

Many ergonomics studies highlight the dangers of distractions during operations of any kind, and Comair transcripts revealed several. In particular, the pilots, Jeffrey Clay and James Polehinke, were heard chatting about everyday things as the plane taxied from the gate, just four minutes before the crash. A 1981 "sterile cockpit rule" forbids, among other things, extraneous conversation during taxi, takeoff and landing to prevent distractions.

Peter Goelz, the former managing director for the National Transportation Safety Board, said in a Washington Post article about the report that the chatter prior to Comair Flight 5191 was so excessive it might have contributed to the crash. "I think that when the human factors experts at the NTSB analyze the transcripts, they will identify this extraneous conversation as a contributing factor," he said.

John Goglia, a professor of aviation science at St. Louis University and a former ...
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