First officer sole survivor in crash of Comair Flight 5191

 - December 26, 2006, 4:58 AM

At last report Comair first officer James Polehinke still didn’t recall his abrupt and tragic entry into the ranks of this year’s newsmakers. Unfortunately for the 44-year-old resident of Margate, Fla., his lack of memory hasn’t made the knowledge that 49 other people died in the crumpled and charred hulk of the Bombardier CRJ100 he piloted any less painful. “Why did God do this to me?” Polehinke reportedly asked upon regaining consciousness at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, days after Comair Flight 5191 ran off the end of the wrong runway at Lexington Blue Grass Airport, clipped the airport’s perimeter fence and severed treetops before crashing and burning in a field.

Polehinke, the only survivor of the August 27 crash, has lost a leg to amputation, undergone several surgeries to repair broken bones and begun down the road to physical recovery at a Lexington rehabilitation center. Hopefully for Polehinke, a conclusive finding by the NTSB will eventually lend enough clarity to help salve his emotional wounds.

Until then, he’ll have to take some comfort in the fact that the Safety Board must consider a series of possible mitigating factors that led to the fateful attempt to take off on a 3,500-foot runway in an airplane that needs more than 5,000 feet when fully loaded. In a lawsuit filed against the airport and the FAA in October, Comair cited unsafe runways and taxiways, improper lighting and signage, inaccurate charts and the airport’s use of just one air traffic controller as contributing factors. For its part, the county airport board has denied any culpability and has placed the entire blame on Comair and the crew.