Pilotsí Chatter Caused Comair Plane Crash?




Pilotsí Chatter Caused Comair Plane Crash?

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) uncovered more information about the circumstances surrounding the fatal Comair airline accident that claimed 49 lives on August 27, but has not yet found a clear-cut cause.

The NTSB investigation looked at transcripts and interviews of experts and put together a report describing ergonomic issues that were likely to have been contributing factors in the crash.

The Comair jet was supposed to take off from the main runway at the Lexington airport, which was 7,000 feet long. Instead however, the plane tried to take off from a 3,500-foot runway meant for smaller planes. The plane was airborne for only a moment before it crashed killing everyone onboard except the copilot.

“Sterile Cockpit”

Many studies have reported on the dangers of distraction during flight operations. The Comair transcripts revealed that the pilots, Jeffrey Clay and James Polehinke were chatting about personal issues unrelated to their work while the plane was taxied out of the gate four minutes before it crashed.

There is a “sterile cockpit” rule prohibiting extraneous talk of issues not related to the flight during takeoff, landing and taxiing to prevent the pilots from becoming distracted and making mistakes.

The former managing director for the NTSB, Peter Goelz, said, “I think that when the human factors experts at the NTSB analyze the transcripts, they will identify this extraneous conversation as a contributing factor.”

Professor of Aviation Science at St. Louis University, and former member of the NTSB, John Goglia, said, “That’s a real problem – it’s called distraction, more than one accident has been caused by it.”

Other Likely Contributing Factors

The NTSB report also showed that the single air traffic controller on duty, Christopher Damon, had slept for only 2 hours, and worked for 15 at the time of the crash. Studies have shown that an operator’s extreme lack of sleep is often a factor in accidents.

The Lexington airport was also violating federal regulations that mandate having two air traffic controllers on duty at all times by having only Damon on duty.

The NTSB report also found that the Lexington airport did not have a sufficiently effective way to notify crews about airport conditions.

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