NTSB to Investigate Fatal Kentucky Air Crash

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the weekend airline crash that killed 49 people in Kentucky. Reports suggest the commuter plane took off from the wrong runway, and hit a fence and some trees before crashing.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

First our lead story, the Comair crash. Forty-nine people died yesterday in Lexington, Kentucky when a flight to Atlanta crashed on takeoff. The commuter jet was using the wrong runway, one that was too short.

Investigators are looking into what the pilots and the air traffic controllers said to each other.

We're joined now from Lexington by NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, you attended a briefing on this crash earlier today. What's the latest?

FRANK LANGFITT reporting:

Well, right now in Washington, investigators are poring over the voice tapes from the cockpit as well as the flight data recorder. And what they're trying to figure out is, what was the communication between the tower and the pilot that morning.

One thing they do know is that the pilot thought he was on the correct runway. That was a 7,000 foot runway which was designed to handle this jet. It was a Bombardier twin engine. What they ended up doing, of course, this pilot was on actually a runway that was half as long, that was really designed for much smaller planes like Cessnas.

And so one of the things they hope to do, and maybe they'll have information for us tonight at a press conference, is some of the transcripts, to see exactly the back and forth between the tower and the cockpit.

CHADWICK: Well, when you say they know the pilot thought he was on the right runway, how do they know?

LANGFITT: Well, they know that because there's never any mention of the short runway by name. The short runway is Runway 26, and when they listened, so far, to the cockpit tapes, there's only a reference to Runway #22, which was the main runway. But it wasn't the runway they took off from.

CHADWICK: Uh-huh. So the National Transportation Safety Board says there have been changes at this airport, Bluegrass International. What are those changes?

LANGFITT: Well, there are a couple of things that they're looking at. One is, they recently, about a week ago, changed the taxi-way between the two runways, and apparently you're supposed to give out a notification so that the airlines can inform their pilots. So that's one thing they're looking at.

Another thing is apparently that morning the lights on the shorter runway, the one that the airplane tried to take off from, weren't working, and they're looking into why that was and whether that could've contributed in some way to the accident.

CHADWICK: What were the conditions like Sunday morning when this plane crashed?

LANGFITT: Well, the plane took off just a little after 6:00 o'clock. There have been some reports that there was rain. According to the weather service, it should have been before twilight, so it should have been quite dark. And one of the things that they're going to do tomorrow, the National Transportation Safety Board, is they're going to try to simulate this. They're going to go out, they're going to have someone in the tower. They're going to have people in vehicles about as high up as where the pilot's eyes would have been as they were - as the pilot was moving along the taxi-way, to try to see, you know, what did the tower see at the time? What could the pilot have seen at the time? And how could this, you know, this tragic error have happened?

CHADWICK: Frank Langfitt in Lexington, Kentucky. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Alex.

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