Sunday, August 27, 2006

Comair 5191

My sadness over the crash and disappointment that the safest period in US airline history has ended is exceeded only by my anger at some of the things the media breathlessly reported in the first hours after the crash before finally deciding that the CRJ apparently departed a 3500' runway. While that seems pretty plausible given the airport configuration and where the wreckage lies, the media habitually broadcasts so much speculation and unconfirmed rumors where aviation is concerned that I don't know when to believe them - on any subject!

The NTSB will investigate and then we'll know exactly what went wrong on Comair 5191, and we'll learn what we can do to prevent it from happening again. In the meantime, we can all consider this a reminder to remain vigilent and not allow complacency to creep in.


amulbunny said...

I hate the talking heads on the news stations. They misidentified the aircraft and the speculation was non ending.

God Speed to those who passed and let the investigators do their jobs without 2nd guessing from the media.

Matt said...

Hi Sam,
I'm a private pilot who's been out of the pilot seat for a long time, but I'm also a former resident of Lexington who knows the roads around the airport pretty well. At the moment, given photos of the crash site relative to the airport and the roads used by first responder, the simplest explanation is that the plane took off and crashed along the 26/8 runway centerline, i.e., from the short runway. Like you say, we'll know for certain when the NTSB looks at the flight recorder.

I have an opposite opinion from yours -- what I'm sad about is that the news organizations provided so little information to viewers. For instance, there were helicopters in the air, but they never shot both the crash site and the airport at the same time (except for one photo by a guy at the Louisville Courier-Journal).

LoadMasterC141 said...

Hi Sam,
The media ALWAYS upsets me with stuff like this. I usually just watch the quick blurb and give it time to develop. They will tell you any piece of info, credited or not, to keep you tuned and aligned with their advertisers.

I had the extreme displeasure of witnessing the largest air collision in history. While the media (CNN International) "developed" the story, all they knew at one point was that a US Air Force plane was the sole witness. Then they got "reports" that my plane, A military transport, had shot down the other two planes. Since then, I tend to tune out of the news past the intial "FACTS" and leave the speculation for the unassuming types to see.

Aviatrix said...

Reporters will report as fact anything that they believe possible. I've watched it. I had a reporter on board and was overflying an area where a police search was in progress. After a while the police helicopter left the area and started flying towards a city. "Follow it!" urged the reporter. "Where do you think it's going?"

Trying to dampen his enthusiasm I said "It's probably just going to refuel." Thirty seconds later I heard my speculation stated as authoritive fact as he made a live news update on the status of the search.

Sam said...


We don't have opposite opinions. Like you, I think more factual information should be provided. There was a great opportunity for a little investigative journalism, all they would've had to do was get some footage of the area off of runway 26 and everyone would see the tire marks on the berm and the hole in the fence. What I can't stand is speculation that's based on nothing but the fertile imagination of a clueless reporter or some bombastic "expert" they dug up on short notice. When they finally get the story right, as they now appear to have, how do you know? It's reported in much the same way as they reported all the hogwash that came before it.

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate your feelings but not everyone in the media is ignorant of aviation. I am a lifelong aviation enthusiast and a student pilot. I'm also a newspaper reporter who has covered my fair share of aircraft accidents and incidents. It's unfortunate but so many journalists still think "stall" meant the engine failed. At every paper I have worked I had a hard and fast rule - if it flies it's my beat, I get first dibs on aviation issues. Some of us do try. It's really the fault of editors and tv media who want it all now in a 30 second soundbie.

Sam said...

Anon 3:23, I'm glad your editor is enlightened enough to assign aviation stories to someone knowledgable about the field. Wish that all newspapers & news programs had pilots on staff. When I lived in LA, I enjoyed seeing aviation issues covered on KTLA's news program - if the reporters got it wrong, Hal Fishman quickly set them straight, even on air! I occasionally heard him flying out of SMO.

Anonymous said...

Re: Comair 5191 crash. I strongly urge the FAA to mandate that all flight crews will double check compass heading after lined up on centerline and holding for takeoff clearance from ATC. If compass heading and intended takeoff runway number(s) do not match, pilot in command will take corrective action. Example: Intended takeoff runway is 22, then compass heading must read 220 degrees. I hope all pilots will incorporate this procedure into their preflight check list on every flight. I assume that most pilots are presently using this vital safety precaution. Have a safe flight. God Bless.

R.J. Brown said...

As an airline captain, of course we check runway alignment with compass heading. However, it's not always exactly what it seems. Runway 22 might correctly line up with a 230 heading instead of a 220 heading. It's not as cut and dry as it seems to non-pilots. This is such a rare occurance that I attribute fate as the cause. As safe as Part 121 (airline) flying is, accidents will happen once every 6.5 million flights on average. Fate never changes!!

Sam said...

Anonymous- Most airlines do already do this. It's really something that most student pilots are taught from Day One. However, it's something that's easy to get complacent about when you think you know the airport layout; I could easily see how a tired flight crew on an early morning departure could forget to do so in their rush to blast off.

RJ Brown- I disagree. TWA800, or ValuJet, or Alaska 261 were "fate" accidents where the pilots were concerned. They did everything right and still died. When the accident is a result of your own mistakes, that's not fate. That's a screwup. I don't say that accusingly because you and I both know that airline pilots screw up on a very regular basis, just usually not bad enough to have consequences.

Perhaps you're trying to say the accident wasn't gross negligence, like Pinnacle 3701. I suspect that's true, it was just a mistake. But that's very different from fate.