Family of Ky. Plane Crash Survivor Says He Does Not Remember Accident, Has Leg Amputated

Doctors have amputated the left leg of a co-pilot whose plane crashed on takeoff after turning onto the wrong runway, and he does not remember the accident that killed 49 people, his family said Monday.

James Polehinke, the lone survivor of the Aug. 27 crash at the Blue Grass Airport, faces several additional surgeries to repair fractures, one involving his spinal cord, the family said.

Polehinke "does not remember anything," the family said in a statement. He is asking about his family and dogs and wants to go home.

"He is more wakeful at times and more communicative, but is still not completely lucid and currently has no recollection of the accident," the statement said.

Polehinke remains in serious condition at University of Kentucky Hospital.

The family said he should be able to begin rehabilitation after the surgeries, but he is not expected to be released for several weeks, university spokesman Jay Blanton said.

A police officer pulled Polehinke from the charred wreckage of ComAir Flight 5191 after the plane struggled to get airborne and crashed into a field.

According to federal investigators, the flight's captain, Jeffrey Clay, taxied the jet onto the wrong runway, which was too short, before Polehinke took the controls for takeoff.

The sole air traffic controller on duty had cleared the plane to takeoff from the longer runway, then turned away to perform other duties and did not see the crash.

Also Monday, the National Transportation Safety Board said toxicology testing on both pilots detected no traces of alcohol or illegal drugs.

A low level of an over-the-counter decongestant was detected in Polehinke's blood, it said. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the substance was not on the agency's banned list.

The NTSB also said a review of the wreckage turned up no evidence of engine failure before the commuter jet plowed through a perimeter fence.

The flight data recorder indicates the plane stopped near the shorter runway for about 45 seconds before the flight was cleared for takeoff, the NTSB said.

Brown said the information indicates the plane made a rolling takeoff, which means it did not stop once reaching the runway. It was unclear whether the pilots looked at the compass and other navigational instruments while on the runway or prior to takeoff.

"Rolling takeoffs are not against the rules, but normally they're only done when there is a lot of traffic, using the same runway," Brown said. "Usually a pilot would want to line up on the runway and stop before taking off."

Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said rolling takeoffs are "considered normal and are conducted on a regular basis."

Flight 5191 was the third of three planes scheduled to takeoff from the Lexington airport in the early morning of Aug. 27, the NTSB said. The other two planes departed safely from the longer runway, which is 7,003 feet long. The shorter runway is half that length. Both runways use the same taxiway, which had been slightly altered a week before the crash because of a construction project.