Comair Files Suit To Share Plane Crash Costs

October 15, 2006

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Barriers from an airport construction project were among several hazards contributing to August's deadly Comair plane crash, the airline said, as it sought help in paying compensation to victims.

The fiery pre-dawn crash on August 27 at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, in which investigators said the pilots took off from the wrong runway, killed 49 people. One of the two pilots was the lone survivor of the crash.

In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Kentucky, Comair, which is a unit of Delta Air Lines, cited the Federal Aviation Administration and the owners and operators of the Lexington airport for a variety of problems that may have led up to the crash.

Among the contributing factors that were the responsibility of the FAA and the airport were "hazardous, unsafe and confusing" barriers related to a construction project on the airport taxiway, the suit said.

It said lighting and signage on the taxiway were "missing or confusing" on the day of the crash, and claimed authorities failed to properly oversee the construction project and apparently failed to alert pilots.

The suit also noted only one air traffic controller was on duty at the time of the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators, who have yet to announce their findings as to what caused the accident, have said FAA guidelines called for two controllers to be working at the time. The lone controller turned away from the airfield to work on paperwork prior to the plane taking off from the wrong runway.

The fatal flight attempted to take off from the shorter of the airport's two runways that was unsuitable for commercial flights, and the plane struck a berm, some trees, and crashed and burned in a field.

In a statement, the Lexington Blue Grass Airport said it operated safely. "We are disappointed that Comair has chosen to make ill-founded claims against the Airport Board, its members and employees," the statement said.

The suit did not seek monetary damages, but sought a "declaratory judgment" that the FAA and the airport share responsibility for the accident. That would allow Comair or its insurer to seek contributions after it compensates the families, the airline said.

Comair also filed an administrative claim against the United States, as overseer of the FAA.

"This is a required procedural step and a prerequisite to any claim for monetary damages against the United States based upon the FAA's actions," the airline said in a statement.

"We want to ensure prompt compensation for the families and victims, and resolve the appropriate apportionment of financial costs. This must be accomplished through the legal process," Comair president Don Bornhorst said in a statement.

The first lawsuit brought by one of the families of the victims was filed in a Kentucky state court a few days after the crash.

(Reuters)