Crash of Flight 5191

Survivor in coma; called ‘a fighter’

The lone survivor of Sunday’s Comair crash clung to life last night.

James M. Polehinke, the co-pilot pulled from the burning jet’s cockpit and last night confirmed by officials to be at the controls, was in a coma and on life support yesterday. Doctors were considering amputating one of his legs, family friends said.

Officials at the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center said Polehinke remained in critical condition last night.

Friends and neighbors in southern Florida described Polehinke, 44, as a strong man with a faith in God and a fighting spirit to match.

“Jimmy is in bad shape up there. He’s in a coma,” said longtime friend Antonio Cruz of Miami. “But he’s a religious person and a very good man. We are all praying he will come through this.”

Lexington police officer Bryan Jared pulled Polehinke from the burning plane minutes after it crashed in a field off Versailles Road. At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Jared said he hoped Polehinke “will be returned back to his family.”

Polehinke also suffered a broken rib and pelvis as well as internal bleeding, friends said.

This is not the first time Polehinke has had a near-death experience.

His wife, Ida, shot him in the abdomen with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun in 1999. When police arrived at the home in Margate, Fla., they found Polehinke lying in his blood on the kitchen floor.

Polehinke said the shooting was an accident. His wife told police she shot Polehinke because she was in “fear” for her life after her husband threatened to kill her during an argument, according to a police report. Polehinke recovered from the shooting and declined to speak about it or press charges.

The couple have no children, but four dogs.

Polehinke graduated from high school in Long Island, N.Y., and always wanted to fly, Cruz said.

“He could play the saxophone so beautifully,” Cruz said. “But he always wanted to be a pilot. That was his lifetime dream.”

Hospital spokesmen said Polehinke’s family members who’d flown in declined interview requests yesterday.

Several months ago, Polehinke suffered another setback.

“He had some type of injury to his knees,” said David Norris, a neighbor. “And he had to do physical therapy and brought himself back from that ... and he could fly again. And now this has happened. ... So who knows, but definitely he’s a fighter.”

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