July 1, 2008

Map Maker Removed From Comair Crash Suit

By Brandon Ortiz, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.

Jul. 1--A company that publishes airport diagrams is not liable for the Comair Flight 5191 crash that killed 49 people at Blue Grass Airport, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Karl Forester cited testimony of First Officer James Polehinke given in a sealed deposition to support his 10-page ruling, which became public Monday.

Polehinke testified that he could not remember whether he or Capt. Jeffrey Clay looked at an airport diagram the morning of the August 2006 crash. He was "adamant" that there was no confusion in the cockpit that day, according to Forester.

Polehinke said he only looked at the airport diagrams "as needed."

The chart in use the morning of the crash did not show that taxiway Alpha was barricaded north of Runway 26, the shortest of the airport's two runways. Flight 5191 took off from the shorter runway and, consequently, crashed at a nearby farm.

Polehinke' lawyers have claimed the pilots were confused by runway construction at the time and the incorrect diagram.

Forester's ruling dismissed third-party claims against Jeppesen Sanderson Inc., in the complex litigation over the crash that is scheduled for trial on Aug. 4.

Jeppesen had been sued by Polehinke and the estates of Clay and flight attendant Kelly Heyer in 22 lawsuits.

Polehinke, the flight's only survivor, and Comair have been sued by dozens of relatives of the crash victims.

Forester noted that the chart showed that the pilots had to cross Runway 26 to get to the correct runway, Runway 22. But the pilots stopped at the smaller runway's "hold short" line.

Forester said nothing on the cockpit voice recorder indicated confusion. They did not mention the barricaded taxiway, nor did they contact the air traffic controller. And both pilots had flown out of the airport before, Forester said.

"Absent evidence the pilots were misled by the Jeppesen chart, the Crew Plaintiffs' (Polehinke, Clay and Heyer's) theory of causation is based only on speculation and conjecture regarding possible causes," Forester wrote.

Polehinke's attorney, William E. Johnson of Frankfort, could not be reached for comment Monday. A Jeppesen spokesman declined to comment.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded last year that the crash was caused by pilot error.

A Comair spokeswoman said that 16 lawsuits have been settled. Lawsuits for 31 families are still pending.

Reach Brandon Ortiz at (859) 231-1443 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1443.


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