Judge orders halt to airport construction

HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITERSSeptember 15, 2006 

A judge granted a temporary restraining order yesterday to prevent Blue Grass Airport from continuing any construction to preserve evidence in the crash of Comair Flight 5191.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine also set a date and time for plaintiffs' experts to inspect the airport: 9:30 a.m. Sept. 27, exactly 30 days after the Comair jet to Atlanta took off from the wrong runway and crashed, killing 49 of the 50 people on board.

The court will notify the families of all victims to let them know about the inspection.

Attorneys for at least one victim's family have already conducted their own inspection of the airport.

Joe Savage, a Lexington attorney representing the family of Christina Cecilia Anderson of Canada, said his co-counsel hired an aviation safety expert, who completed an aerial survey of the airport.

Airport officials already had agreed to delay construction, but lawyers for the family of Rebecca Adams, who have filed suit against Comair, wanted other documentation as well. They wanted to make sure the crash site was secured for inspection.

However, as Comair attorneys and Goodwine pointed out, the actual crash site is on private property and not under airport control.

Also at issue was notification of families. Comair attorneys want to notify all potential plaintiffs -- the families of all 49 victims -- about the proposed inspection.

However, Robert Clifford of Chicago, the lead lawyer for Adams' family, said that would violate the spirit of a federal law that prohibits lawyers from contacting air-disaster victims for 45 days afterward.

"It would be unfair to create some unwarranted sense of urgency" that lawyers need to be hired right away, Clifford argued in court. "We ought not to create an unwarranted concern (that) their rights will be compromised."

Any evidence collected at the site will be shared with other plaintiffs.

Clifford wanted to delay any inspection until Oct. 27. But Comair and airport lawyers argued that any further delays in runway and taxiway construction would hamper airport operations.

"We do need to get back to work," said Kip Loggins, an Atlanta attorney who represents the airport's insurer. Airport officials would not identify their insurance company to the Herald-Leader without an official open records request.

Loggins argued in favor of an earlier inspection. The airport board is not currently a party to any lawsuits. Major construction at the airport took place this summer, and more was scheduled for two weeks from now.

Airport director Michael Gobb attended the hearing but declined to answer questions afterward.

Goodwine agreed with Loggins, setting the inspection date for Sept. 27. She said she would send letters to each of the families, while explaining that any evidence would be shared in all future lawsuits.

"Their rights will be protected should they not be able to participate at this time," she said.

David Gleave, chief investigator of United Kingdom-based Aviation Safety Investigations, conducted an aerial survey of the airport for Anderson's family the weekend after the crash.

Gleave's preliminary report outlines naming, signage and marking problems at the airport.

For example, the airport's main taxiway, known as Taxiway Alpha, is called by the same name on both sides of the runway.

"It is not good practice to give the same name to a taxiway on either side of a runway," Gleave wrote in the report.

The airport also has a holding position near the start of a runway that is called "Alpha."

"This holding position should have a name, 'Alpha,' and a number to provide it with a unique reference," Gleave wrote.

Anderson's family filed a suit against Comair in federal district court yesterday. The family is seeking unspecified damages in excess of $75,000.

The crash is a result of negligence by Comair, the lawsuit said. It argues that Comair's pilots attempted to take off from the wrong runway because they failed to take appropriate care to observe runway markings and signs and to check the headings on the airplane's compasses to confirm it was on the correct runway.

Additional suits will be filed against the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration and other private entities, Savage said.

Anderson, 39, of Inglewood, Ontario, just west of Toronto, managed a breeding farm. She was in Lexington looking at yearlings before this week's fall horse sale.

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