The only survivor of the crash of Comair Flight 5191 was released from the University of Kentucky Hospital yesterday to begin rehabilitation, and his mother said he will eventually "walk out of the state of Kentucky."
First Officer James Polehinke, who was piloting the plane when it crashed at Blue Grass Airport on Aug. 27, was taken to Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington. He had been in the UK Hospital for five weeks after he was pulled from the burning wreckage of the Comair plane by rescuers.
In an interview, Polehinke's mother, Honey Jackson, said he is becoming more lucid and asking more questions about the crash that killed 49 passengers and crew.
"My son will walk out of the state of Kentucky," Jackson said yesterday. "That's what we are praying for and that's the only thing we are thinking about. ... My son feels the same way. He wants to walk again."
Polehinke suffered multiple injuries in the crash. Doctors amputated his left leg on Sept. 14 and surgically repaired his broken right foot. Polehinke underwent surgery last week to stabilize a spinal fracture, hospital officials said.
Polehinke "was upgraded to fair condition Monday after showing continuing clinical progress," according to a statement from the hospital about his release.
Jackson plans to travel back and forth from Florida while her son is rehabilitating.
Jackson was in the process yesterday of finding a way to transport Polehinke's dogs to Lexington.
"His immune system will go through the roof, and blow the roof off that rehab center when he sees those dogs," Jackson said. "Those are his babies. They were his life, next to his family. That's how much he loved his dogs."
Jackson said Polehinke was "devastated beyond comprehension" when he first learned the death toll from the crash about 10 days ago.
She said she has been reading her son cards sent from people in Lexington and around the United States.
"He doesn't know what he's been through," she said.
Flight 5191 crashed on Aug. 27 after taking off from the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport. The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the crash is still ongoing. Polehinke, the first officer, piloted the plane at takeoff, but Capt. Jeffrey Clay drove the aircraft to the runway, the NTSB has said.
Polehinke was hired by Comair in March 2002 and had 5,424 flight hours with the company. He had flown out of the Lexington airport 10 times in two years and last flew into the airport in May.
Jackson said that, although her son will undergo a long rehabilitation, she admires his strength and perseverance.
"The human spirit has to be greater than we know," she said. "He's always been strong, but this is beyond explanation."