Instructors Testify Comair Crew Erred Before Crash That Killed 49 People in Kentucky

A Comair pilot instructor said the pilots of Flight 5191 would have failed a flight test for violating rules the day the flight crashed, killing 49 people, according to court documents.

Comair Capt. Thomas Scharold testified in a deposition that the pilots violated briefing, taxi and "sterile cockpit" rules, which say pilots must maintain a distraction-free cockpit. Scharold is a line check pilot, a veteran pilot who trains other pilots.

Scharold said if he had been instructing Flight 5191's pilots — Jeff Clay and first officer James Polehinke, the sole survivor — he would not have let them take off. The pilots steered the plane onto an unlit runway too short for a commercial jet to take off in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 27.

All Comair pilots are required to receive training from line check pilots each year and must pass flight tests, a Comair spokeswoman said.

Scharold is one of three Comair instructors whose depositions are excerpted in a court brief filed Tuesday by the airport in response to allegations made by Comair. The airline has noted that published airport diagrams that were in use the morning of the crash had mislabeled a taxiway.

Comair has filed a third-party claim against Blue Grass Airport in a lawsuit filed by relatives of one crash victim. Dozens of other lawsuits against Comair have been filed by crash victims in state and federal courts.

Airport attorney Tom Halbleib said the instructors' testimony was consistent with evidence released by the National Transportation Safety Board showing that the pilots violated company and Federal Aviation Administration rules by talking about their families, work and other subjects while preparing for takeoff.

Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said the deposition excerpts don't tell the whole story. "The depositions of the (instructors) were extensive, and their individual comments should not be taken out of context," she said, declining further comment.

Polehinke's lawyer also declined comment.

The NTSB is scheduled to meet next week in Washington, D.C., to issue a probable cause of the crash.