The crew of the Comair Bombardier CRJ100 that crashed two days ago after takeoff from Kentucky’s Lexington airport had been cleared by air traffic control (ATC) to takeoff from the main runway 22, even though data and physical evidence show the regional jet used the shorter runway 26, says the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Preliminary information gleaned from control tower tapes last night “confirm the information” on the CRJ100’s cockpit voice recorder (CVR) that communications between ATC and the pilots “were about a takeoff from runway 22”, says a NTSB spokeswoman.

She says preliminary information from the CVR also indicates that “preflight preparations in the cockpit were normal” and no problems concerning the airworthiness of the aircraft were noted by the crew.

All but one of the 47 passengers and three crew on Comair’s Delta Connection flight 5191 perished when the aircraft (N431CA) crashed after takeoff from the 1,070m (3,500ft) runway 26, which is about half the length of runway 22 and serves general aviation operators. The survivor, the aircraft’s first officer, was critically injured.

“There was extensive fire and a lot of damage on the scene,” says the NTSB spokeswoman.

The debris field is located about a half a mile (just under 1km) from the airport.

Several teams are now in place to investigate the crash. Officials are currently reviewing the CDR and flight data recorder, which are in “good condition”, says the safety board’s spokeswoman.

An operations team will look at runway markings, taxiing markings and “what could be seen from the cockpit”, says the spokeswoman. They will also look at runway lighting conditions, as questions emerge if runway 26 was lit at the time of the crash.

Comair, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta, says the aircraft received routine maintenance on 26 August, a day before the crash.

The NTSB spokeswoman notes that that the General Electric CF34 engines used to power the CRJ100 “appeared to be in good working order at the time of the accident”.

Read Airline Business deputy editor Brendan Sobie on the rush to blame pilot error in the Comair CRJ100 crash aftermath, and why airports need better runway signage