Sunday, August 27, 2006

Plane Crash: runway 22 or 26 at Lexington-Fayette?

I lived in Lexington, KY, for two years. I've flown out of Lexington-Fayette airport who knows how many times, often on the same Comair flight 5191 that crashed today just a half-mile from takeoff in western Fayette County. (I also have a private pilot's license, which, I must say, I haven't used in a long time -- but I am familiar with the terminology.)

Almost immediately, something about the Lexington, Kentucky, plane crash and the details of the recovery operation seemed to indicate that the aircraft, a Bombardier CRJ 200, had taken off from the wrong runway. (For a Google Map of the airport, click here; the map to the right comes from fltplan.com.) The longer of the two runways (7000 ft long) handles all of the jet traffic. It goes southwest to northeast. Since midnight last night, the prevailing winds have been out of the south and then the southwest. Because all aircraft have a easier time taking off in the space allotted if they take off into the wind, Comair 5191 would surely have been scheduled to takeoff on runway 22 (rather than runway 4); that is, toward the southwest on the long runway.

It is very unlikely that a jet aircraft would have attempted to take off from runway 26, except by accident, because the runway is too short. According to Flug Revue, the Bombardier CRJ 200 requires at least 1700 m, or 5800 ft, for takeoff. Anything shorter than that, and the aircraft would be forced to takeoff with help of what is known as "ground effect" without the velocity needed to sustain lift at elevations more than a hundred feet above the runway surface.

The pilots were veterans with Comair, which means that they had surely flown in and out of Lexington-Fayette any number of times. Both the pilot and co-pilot would have known which runway they were on before they took off. Furthermore, the control tower at Lexington-Fayette operates continuously (that is, there's someone there 24 hr a day). They would have been an additional impediment to mis-directed takeoff.

And yet, where did the rescue crews go? According to images from the local ABC/CNN affiliate, vehicles were accessing the crash site from somewhere near the intersection of Rice Rd (which heads north-south along the western edge of the Keeneland Racetrack grounds) and Versailles Rd, which heads east-west between Lexington and Versailles, roughly parallel to runway 26. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the aircraft crashed 1/2 mile from the end of the runway. Going back to the Google Maps image (here), if you were to try to access a crash site 1/2 mile from the end of runway 22 (the long runway), you would go to Parkers Mill Rd (KY Rte 1968), which is nowhere near where the vehicles were coming and going.

I have to conclude from this that there is a better than even chance that both pilots and the control tower failed to notice that the plane was taking off from runway 26. I find this completely surprising, and also really, really hard to believe, but I just don't understand, otherwise, why rescue and police vehicles would be using Versailles Rd, and not Parkers Mill Rd, to get to the crash site.

UPDATE: One blogger, worried about terrorism, lets this crash lead her into a complete psychotic break.

[Note that this blogger, Stacy Harp, is now threatening me with a libel suit for my comment that she was insane to jump to the rash conclusion that Muslims brought down the plane when it was so clearly pilot error. As a show of good faith, I am more than happy to state here, in front of everyone, that I have no way of knowing whether Stacy Harp is undergoing a psychotic break, and that the statement was meant solely to reflect the impression I got from the complete irrationality of her blog post that she was not thinking clearly. This is the most protected kind of speech under the First Amendment, especially since it was in no way meant to defame the character of Ms. Harp or harm her personally or professionally in any way. Blogs are meant to spread ideas and concepts -- and often in colorful and original ways. I found her ideas to be utterly bankrupt, and therefore took the step of publicly stating just how bankrupt I thought they were, just as she publicly defamed all Muslims by assuming that they would be responsible for the crash. So far, she has not provided a reasoned rebuttal to my claim that she was premature in assuming that Muslims caused Comair 5191 to go down. Personally, I think she owes the families of the passengers, and Muslim Americans living in the Lexington area, an apology. If she, or her attorney, wishes to send me another email concerning the content of this post, then they are more than welcome to do so. Perhaps the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee will contact her. Of course, I wish her no personal harm, but we are all grownups here. Not all responses to blog posts, such as hers, will be applause.]

UPDATE II: Sean Osborne from the Northeast Intelligence Network (I'm not familiar with this organization) is partial to the "wrong runway" hypothesis [emphasis mine]:
Based upon my carefull review of Bomardier CRJ-100 regional jet specifications, and having seen a live streaming video feed from a Lexington, Kentucky television station, as well as detailed satellite composite imagery of the Bluegrass Airport, it seems certain and is my assessment that Comair Flight 5191 executed its takeoff from the incorrect runway.

Facts I cite in making this assessment are as follows:

The ground impact markings and final site of the aircraft on the ground are consistent with an east to west departure from Runway 22/8.

Comair Flight 5191 impacted the ground a very short distance and in a straight line from the end of Runway 22/8, which on its western end is designated as runway 8 and is the nearest point to the impact site.

The length of this runway, which appears to be undergoing improvements of its surface, is approximately 3500 feet.

The primary runway at Bluegrass Airport, Runway 22/4, is 7,000 feet in length.

The CRJ-100/200 family of regional jet aircraft require a minimum takeoff distance of approximately 5,000 feet.
UPDATE III: A local farmer, Nick Bentley, confirms the "wrong runway" hypothesis (Lexington Herald-Leader). According to Scott Lanter, the Airport fire chief, the crash site is in line with the shorter runway 26.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

22=long
26= short
You have a clear explanation and good insight here. Note how you have a clerical misprison over the two numbers 22 and 26 in your post.

If your suspicions are confirmed, I trust the FAA will improve the numbering system for a two runway airport. I understand it will be a larger system failure here, but the first error may have been a simple slip of tongue. A tragic scene. Peace.

Matt said...

Thanks, anonymous, but I checked the post and I have the right runway numbers posted.

Anonymous said...

Runways are numbered by magnetic heading, so runway 22 is approx 220 degrees magnetic heading. The same runway in the opposite direction is runway 04. The correct runway reference should be 22/4 and 26/8

Matt said...

Thanks again, anonymous.

However, when I would land on a runway, the tower would tell me to use "runway 22", not "runway 4/22", lest I be confused. I see what you're saying, but it's a embellishment that isn't actually used in practice. That's why I left it as "runway 22". Best.

Joe Brummer said...

I have dealt with Stacy Harp for awhile now and learned she has a good heart but it is sometimes not spoken well. Please be nice and kind to her. She means the best, but doesn't show it well.

I too found her earlier post pretty offensive, but understand she has a right to do that. You have nothing to worry about as far as the law suit thing. A quick look at my site at joebrummer.com will show you, as long as your words are the truth, no one can touch you.

Peace and live in nonviolence,
Joe

Anonymous said...

My point, as I told you in a private email is this - attack the idea, not the person Matt. Now let me address you. It's okay with me if you find my ideas "utterly bankrupt" which is why you could've simply stated that. I did not publicly defame all Muslims - that's you reading into my QUESTION. My question is reasonable.

As for apologizing to anyone, nice try Matt. I did or said nothing wrong, unless you think my freedom of speech by posing a question is wrong. If that's the case, then that's pretty extreme don't ya think?

And I do have a question for you - have you read Terror in the Skies yet? I have - cover to cover - and also interviewed the author. If you haven't, please do because that may help you understand my need to ask the question I asked.

And finally, assuming what the media is telling us is true about this being a pilot error, so be it. But, I think you would agree, if you're the clear thinker you appear to be, that we would be foolish to believe everything we hear coming from the media.

I believe that is why bloggers are a force to be reckoned with.

And as for Joe Brummer, he doesn't know me, represent me accurately on his blog or speak for me, and we'll end that there.

Stacy

Anonymous said...

Since Stacy doesn't allow people to question her on her blog, I'll post here.

Stacy, did you also wonder how many baseball watching, apple pie eating, Catholic Church going white male Americans were on the plane? You know, people like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Brett said...

Stacy Harp is often given to deranged speculations about groups of people she hates.

I don't know if you are aware of this, but she recently caused a stir when she gave one of her buddies a platform on her radio show to publicly claim that gays have sex with infants. She agreed with him, and while she apologized for a lack of evidence, she has yet to say the claim was false.

Your characterization was spot on.

Matt said...

Brett, thanks for your comment. I had no idea who Stacy Harp was before all this happened. She's the first to have every threatened me with a lawsuit over the contents of my blog -- all the more suprising given that she herself is a blogger. She should know better. (Funnily enough, my wife, who's an attorney, was initially worried that I might expose myself to a libel suit, not by writing that Harp's post suggested a "complete psychotic break", but by claiming that the plane took the wrong runway. When I told my wife last night that someone threatened me with a libel suit, she thought that that's what I was talking about.)

When all is said and done, as far as Comair 5191 was concerned, I was right and Harp was wrong. And not only was she wrong, but she jumped to the conclusion that Muslims might be involved (nay, that Muslims were involved) despite the available evidence, believing that the media were covering something up in their coverage. Of course, we all know that if terrorism in fact had been involved, the Bush Administration would have been all over it. The only evidence should could provide that the plane had not taken the wrong runway was Comair's Bornhorst's attempt to deflect such questions from the press, citing an "ongoing investigation" (and no doubt worried about a long series of civil damages lawsuits).

If we are ever going to have a society in which we can all live in peace, people with views like Harp's must be fought with our every breath. She has every right to be a Christian woman who expresses her religious views in her politics, but, as far as we're concerned, there should be no tolerance for blanket intolerance.

Daniel said...

Funny, I tried to look at Stacy's blog at work and it's blocked by our network as hate speech. Go figure. So I looked at it from home and tried to post a comment and, can you believe it, she hasn't allowed it to be posted.

I guess she doesn't like criticism. She can dish it out but apparently can't take it.