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A Cautionary Tale

Lesson 1

In the wee hours of the morning of August 27, 2006, a CRJ-100 was cleared by the tower of the Lexington, Kentucky Blue Grass Airport to takeoff on runway 22, a 7300 foot long runway. As most of us know, the crew mistakenly taxied onto runway 26, which is only 3,500 feet long, and attempted to take off. The airplane ran off the end of the runway, impacting the airport perimeter fence and trees, and crashed. All but one of the persons aboard the airplane died, and the airplane was destroyed by impact forces and the post crash fire. (The first officer was the only one to survive. He lost a leg and suffered brain injuries.)

I know that many of us in the general aviation world were asking the question: “How could they have done that? Didn’t they check their compass and HSI with the runway heading?” Obviously they didn’t, and I’ll address that in just a little bit.

Earlier this week the cockpit voice recorder transcripts were released by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and they show that the pilot and co-pilot talked about their kids and their dogs as they taxied to line up on the runway. The chatter was in violation of an FAA regulation that bans "nonessential cockpit conversation" during taxi, takeoff and landing. The last word recorded on the cockpit voice recorder was the pilot saying "Whoa" just before the Bombardier regional jet smashed through a fence at the end of Runway 26, became briefly airborne and then crashed in a field.

Now these were professional pilots, flying under part 121 of the CFRs, which strictly regulate things like “sterile cockpits” and other essential items of effective CRM (crew/cockpit resource management). Even with the regulations that they were obliged to observe, they managed to make some horrible mistakes and decisions, and as a result, 49 people are no longer with us.

But what about all of us who do not have to fly with that type of regulation? Is there anything that we can take from this accident that might prevent us from coming to a similar catastrophe? Absolutely, even if we are flying a single seat airplane, that was built in the thirties, and we are operating out of a sleepy grass airstrip.

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