LEXINGTON, Ky. — Attorneys for the sole survivor of the crash of Comair Flight 5191 Friday blasted a report by the National Transportation Safety Board as being "incomplete and insufficient to address the causes of the Lexington tragedy."
In a statement released Friday night, attorneys for Flight 5191 first officer James Polehinke argue that pilot error was not the only cause of the crash. The NTSB's findings ignored important system failures that could have prevented the crash once the pilots turned onto the wrong runway, which was too short, the statement said.
Polehinke's lawyers specifically pointed to the Federal Aviation Administration, the air traffic controller on duty that morning and Blue Grass Airport, which had undergone a massive runway reconstruction and repaving project before the crash.
"The Board's factual and probable-cause findings should have addressed all of the root causes of the atmosphere of confusion that led to the aircraft turning onto the wrong runway, and they should have addressed every factor that resulted in the failure to notice and correct the mistaken turn, once it was made," said the statement from Polehinke's attorneys, Bruce Brandon and Larry Moore III.
After a daylong meeting Thursday in Washington, the NTSB ruled that the probable cause of the crash rested almost entirely with Polehinke and Capt. Jeffrey Clay. The board said the two failed to confirm their position on the runway, ignored cues that would have warned them they were in the wrong place and engaged in too much irrelevant chit-chat in the cockpit.
The Aug. 27 crash killed 49 people. Only Polehinke survived, after he was pulled from the wreckage with serious injuries. He underwent several surgeries, spent weeks in the hospital and returned to Florida to recuperate.
He has remained largely silent about the accident.
The statement released Friday made clear that Polehinke and his attorneys don't think all the blame rests in the cockpit of the doomed plane. Brandon said the statement spoke for itself, and he declined to elaborate.
The statement said the Lexington accident resulted from a series of failures in the "safety net" that is supposed to protect passengers and crew, and to prevent "one party's error from causing a catastrophe."
Polehinke's attorneys pointed to problems with the FAA and the air traffic control system that resulted in "inadequate warnings, inadequate taxi directions, and the predictable failure of an overly burdened and fatigued individual to comply with requirements to scan the runways and to warn the cockpit of potential dangers."
Polehinke's attorneys also stated that the NTSB findings did not address confusion caused by the construction project at Blue Grass Airport that "resulted in improper markings, signage, and lighting."
The NTSB also did not address the roles the FAA, air traffic control, the airport and chart-makers played in the tragedy by providing the pilots with misleading and "faulty charts," the lawyers said.
In its report, the NTSB did not find any problems with markings, signage and lighting at the airport.
Also, the NTSB acknowledged the airport map given to the pilots was inaccurate, but said "adequate cues existed on the airport surface and available resources were present in the cockpit to allow the flight crew to successfully navigate from the air carrier ramp" to the correct runway.
Deborah Hersman, the NTSB member who was on the scene in Lexington after the crash, told the Associated Press Friday that the agency subpoenaed Polehinke in an attempt to hear his account of the crash. The NTSB never interviewed Polehinke because his doctor said his injuries were too severe, Hersman said.
Reached by phone Friday night, Brandon declined to discuss Polehinke's medical condition or why he was not interviewed by the NTSB.
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