WASHINGTON – Seconds before a commuter plane crashed after going down the wrong runway, the co-pilot noted it was "weird" that the Lexington, Ky., strip had no lights, according to a transcript released Wednesday.
The runway wasn't long enough for a passenger jet when Comair Flight 5191 took off in the pre-dawn darkness on Aug. 27.
Co-pilot James Polehinke said it was "weird with no lights," just seconds before the sound of the impact was heard, according to the National Transportation Safety Board transcript. The captain, Jeffrey Clay, then responded, "Yeah."
The crash killed 49 of 50 people on board. Polehinke, the lone survivor, lost a leg and suffered brain damage from the crash. He has told family members he remembers nothing about that morning.
According to federal investigators, Clay taxied the plane onto the wrong runway before Polehinke took over the controls for takeoff from Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.
Polehinke said, "I'll take us to Atlanta," and Clay responds, `sure."
According to the transcript, the last understandable word came from Clay just a second before the crash, when he said, "whoa."
It was the first time the public was given access to the transcripts of what the Comair pilots told each other in the cockpit during the ill-fated flight.
In a brief statement, Comair said, "We recognize the investigation is a long and difficult process for the families, especially when announcements — such as today's — receive intense public scrutiny. Our desire is to learn as much as we can in order to prevent these kinds of accidents from happening again."
Numerous lawsuits have been filed accusing Comair of negligence. However, the airline has sued Blue Grass Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration, asking that they share blame.
A week before the crash, the taxiways at Blue Grass were altered as part of a construction project, and the maps and charts used in the cockpits of Comair and other airlines weren't updated. The FAA did notify airlines of the changes through a separate announcement.
Only one controller was on duty when the plane crashed. The veteran controller cleared the flight for takeoff, then turned away to do administrative work, officials said. He didn't see the plane turn down the runway, try to take off and then crash in flames.