Survivor issues statement of gratitude

HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITERDecember 22, 2006 

The sole survivor of the crash of Comair Flight 5191 yesterday expressed gratitude to emergency personnel who saved him from the plane's ruins.

In a statement, James M. Polehinke, 44, of Margate, Fla., said he had mixed feelings about leaving Lexington and returning to his home state.

"I am happy to be back at home, but I am at a loss to express adequately my gratitude to the people of Kentucky," Polehinke said in the statement released by his attorney, Bruce Brandon of Greensboro, N.C.

Polehinke left Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital last week for Florida.

Polehinke was the co-pilot of the flight that crashed in a field shortly after takeoff from Blue Grass Airport on Aug. 27, killing 49 of 50 people on board.

Polehinke was pulled from the fiery wreck and rushed to University of Kentucky Hospital. His spine was broken and he suffered some paralysis. Doctors amputated his leg and implanted hardware to stabilize his back.

After being released from UK Hospital in October, he spent about two months at Cardinal Hill.

Polehinke yesterday expressed gratitude to emergency personnel, doctors, nurses, therapists and other medical professionals who cared for him.

He thanked Kentuckians for their support through letters and prayers.

"The support of my family, as well as the entire 'Comair family' has been, and will continue to be, an important part of my path toward recovery," Polehinke said.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think of the passengers and crew of Flight 5191. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to their loved ones, and they will always be in my thoughts and prayers."

Also yesterday, Polehinke's mother said the family would like to talk about the crash, but they have been advised by attorneys not to.

"Like any mother, I'm glad that he's back" in Florida, Honey Jackson said.

She said her family is going "through a very tough time."

The crash has spawned multiple lawsuits, including at least one that names Polehinke as a defendant. Polehinke had taken over the controls after the plane's captain, Jeffrey Clay, who died in the accident, taxied the plane into position. Instead of turning onto the runway for commercial flights, it took off from the runway meant for smaller planes.

"We would really like to express our thoughts and our opinions, but we are not at liberty right now, unfortunately," she said.

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