LEXINGTON, Ky. – Investigators in the Comair jet crash that killed 49 people are looking into whether changes made to a taxiway during a repaving project a week ago confused the pilot and caused him to turn onto the wrong runway.
Federal aviation officials said Monday they also are looking at such things as runway lights, markings and signs for clues to what could have misled the pilots, as well as anything else that had changed the configuration or appearance of the airport.
Both the old and new taxiway routes cross over the short runway where the pilots of Flight 5191 tried to take off before the plane crashed into a grassy field and burst into flame, airport Executive Director Michael Gobb said.
“It’s slightly different than it used to be,” said Charlie Monette, president of Aero-Tech flight school at the airport. “Could there have been some confusion associated with that? That’s certainly a possibility.”
Lowell Wiley, a flight instructor who flies almost every day out of Lexington, said in an interview that he was confused by the redirected taxi route when he was with a student taking off from the main runway on Friday.
“When we taxied out, we did not expect to see a barrier strung across the old taxiway,” Wiley said. “It was a total surprise.”
Investigators plan to use a high truck to simulate the pilots’ view of the runways and taxiways in an effort to determine why the pilots turned onto the shorter runway before dawn Sunday.
Somehow, the jet ended up on Runway 26 – a cracked surface about 3,500 feet long that forms an X with the main runway and is meant only for small planes. Aviation experts say the CRJ-100 needed 5,000 feet to get airborne.