Numerous safety nets appeared to have failed on 27 August 2006, when a Comair Bombardier CRJ100 with 50 people on board accelerated to take-off speed on the wrong runway at Blue Grass airport in Lexington, Kentucky. Delta Connection flight 5191 ultimately crashed after speeding off the end of the 1,100m (3,500ft) unlit general aviation runway in the pre-dawn darkness, hitting an airport perimeter fence and trees and killing 49 of the 50 passengers and crew on board. Only the first officer survived.

A transcript of the cockpit voice recording, released by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as part of an initial factual report on the accident, reveals a combination of miscues and poor practices that may have contributed to the accident. Examples include:

  • during the pre-flight and taxi phases, the pilots did not apply "sterile cockpit" procedures, but discussed personal matters and work schedules
  • Comair procedures did not include instructions for the pilots to make a positive identification of the runway they were entering and to cross-check the runway heading before take-off - an action the NTSB has now asked the US Federal Aviation Administration to mandate
  • the crew and controllers made numerous references to the correct runway (2,120m-long runway 22) but the pilots ultimately lined up and departed on runway 26
  • eleven seconds into the take-off run, and 15s before reaching rotation speed, the first officer - the pilot flying - continued take-off despite commenting on how "weird" it was that there were no runway lights.
  • earlier in the recording the first officer, describing a night arrival at the airport a few days earlier, recalled remarking on lights being "out all over the place"
  • a new taxiway routing for runway 22 was in use due to construction, but the information was not included on the pilots' airport charts
  • one controller was on duty in the tower that morning, rather than the minimum of two specified by the FAA.

Less than 1s after reaching take-off speed, the pilot said "Whoa". The recorder then picked up the sound of an impact, followed immediately by the sound of the stick shaker and the stall warning alert.

Source: Flight International