Crash of Flight 5191

Captain was well-rested, wife says

The wife of the Comair 5191 captain said yesterday he was a “by-the-book” pilot who flew out of Blue Grass Airport frequently and was well-rested when he boarded the plane.

In the aftermath of the plane crash that killed pilot Jeffrey Clay and 48 other people Sunday, questions have arisen about why the plane took off from the wrong runway and whether the pilots were tired or compromised in some way.

But Amy Clay told the Herald-Leader yesterday Jeffrey Clay “was not fatigued” on Sunday morning and had been in Lexington since the afternoon before.

“My husband was not careless in any manner,” said Clay, a Paintsville native. “He was detail-oriented. He was a wonderful man and an incredible pilot. The pilots who worked with him called him a ‘by-the-book guy.’”

The FAA’s database shows that “neither pilot had any accidents, incidents or enforcement history,” said Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman.

“I know in my heart that the people on that plane couldn’t have been in better hands than his,” said Amy Clay.

Jeffrey Clay, 35, of Burlington in Northern Kentucky, and the plane’s sole flight attendant, Kelly Heyer, 28, of Cincinnati, were among those who died in the crash.

James Polehinke, 44, the plane’s first officer and only survivor, was in critical condition yesterday at the University of Kentucky Hospital.

Polehinke was piloting the plane at the time of the crash, officials said last night.

Jeffrey Clay arrived in Lexington at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on a flight in which he was a passenger. Amy Clay is not sure what city he was in beforehand -- a pilot’s schedule can be so “random” that she didn’t always have details about each flight on a daily basis.

On Saturday evening, she met him in Lexington and they took their daughters, 2-year-old Shelby and Sarah, 3 months, and other family members to Ramsey’s Diner at Helmsdale Place for dinner.

Later, family members drove Jeffrey Clay back to the Radisson Plaza Hotel so Amy could get the children back to Burlington and in bed.

She spoke to her husband by telephone a few times that evening because their 3-month-old had her first cold. Amy said Jeffrey told her good night for the last time in a telephone call right before she went to bed -- she thinks it must have been about 10 p.m.

Early the next morning, Jeffrey and the rest of the Flight 5191 crew took a shuttle to the airport.

The shuttle driver who said he picked up the crew at 5 a.m. Sunday told the Herald-Leader yesterday that he noticed nothing unusual.

“I loaded up the first officer and the captain first,” said Jarrod Moore, who works for the Radisson.

“It was all pretty normal; it’s usually a quiet ride that time in the morning, just small talk,” Moore said.

At the airport, Moore said, “I unloaded their stuff and told them to have a safe day.”

Josh Hammond, a Comair spokesman, said he didn’t know how many times Clay, who was based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and Polehinke, based at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, had flown out of Blue Grass.

Asked about the experience of the crew with the Lexington airport, Comair President Don Bornhorst said: “It was a veteran crew. As far as their experience with this airport, it’s all part of the investigation, but I would say ... the captain had seven years experience with this equipment ... and the first officer about 21/2 years.”

Clay said her husband routinely flew in and out of Blue Grass, but said she didn’t know whether her husband and Polehinke had flown together before. On Saturday, he didn’t know who his crew would be for the Sunday flight, she said.

Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board heading the probe, said that the NTSB investigation would include routine toxicology tests for alcohol and drugs.

The investigation would look at the crew members’ training and history, how they had spent the previous 72 hours, and whether they got enough rest, Hersman said.

Bornhorst, the airline’s president, said that the flight crew had been “on a legal rest period far beyond what is required,” but declined to discuss specifics.

Moore, the Radisson’s van driver, said he took two other Flight 5191 passengers -- newlyweds Jon Hooker and Scarlett Parsley Hooker -- to the airport at 4:30 a.m.

The London natives had gotten married Saturday night in Lexington.

“They were real excited about their honeymoon. She said they were going somewhere close to Laguna Beach, Calif.,” Moore said.

“And they were still excited about their wedding.”

Moore said he made a 6 a.m. run to the airport as well. It was on that trip that he saw emergency vehicles heading toward the airport.

Moore said that when he realized he had driven five of the crash victims to the airport, “I was just shocked. I didn’t know what to think.”

Amy Clay, too, isn’t sure what to do or say or think.

But she’s convinced that whatever happened on that plane was not her husband’s fault.

“Something happened,” she said. “I don’t know what it was.”

Amy Clay had met her husband, a New Jersey native, in Orlando, Fla., where he was working as an instructor at Comair’s flight academy in 1998.

She had moved to Florida after graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 1994.

The couple married and moved to Burlington in 2000 when Jeffrey Clay went to work as a pilot for Comair.

They had a sweet life with the girls, and spent a lot of time around Lexington because they have relatives in Georgetown, she said.

She said she feels a lot of affinity for the families who lost love ones on that plane.

“My heart is broken for everybody who lost relatives in this horrible accident,” said Clay. “I know they hurt because I hurt that way too.”

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