The victims of Comair Flight 5191 might have survived if the plane had not burst into flames, a lawsuit by the family of one of the victims now claims.
The lawsuit was amended yesterday to name the maker of the plane, Bombardier Inc. and Comair's parent company, Delta Airlines, as defendants. The suit claims the aircraft design did not protect passengers from flammable jet fuel.
The plane crashed and burned shortly after taking off from the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport on Aug. 27, killing 49 of the 50 people on board.
The suit also claims that the aircraft, a CRJ-100, was defective because it did not include a runway awareness system to alert pilots they were on the wrong runway.
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Comair was named in the original wrongful-death suit, filed by the family of Cecile Moscoe in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
Attorney Stanley M. Chesley of Cincinnati said he reviewed autopsy reports -- he said he did not know how many -- and concluded most of the 49 deaths were caused by fire.
"Some or all of the passengers on this plane would have survived the crash except for the violent fire," Chesley said. "The fire spread so quickly that the passengers never had a chance to escape."
Chesley said the victims could not have died from impact injuries such as broken legs and other fractures.
Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn at first said the victims had died in the fire, but the next day he said most had died from blunt force trauma from the impact. The second statement came from speaking to the state medical examiner after the autopsies. The autopsies have not been made public.
John Paul Macdonald, spokesman for Bombardier, had not heard about the lawsuit last night, but he said the planes in the CRJ family are among the safest in the industry. Bombardier has sold about 1,300 of planes in that family worldwide. And the 50-seat plane, like the one for Flight 5191, is the most popular.
Macdonald said the spread of fire in the planes has never been an issue. He also questioned the basis of the lawsuit's claim.
He said Bombardier will continue to work with the National Transportation Safety Board on its investigation.
"We'll just have to wait and see the results of that crash investigation," he said.
About 20 percent of 1,153 fatalities on U.S. passenger flights from 1981 to 1990 were caused by fire, and several of the deaths occurred before collisions, Chesley said. And 40 percent of the fire fatalities are caused by smoke and toxic fumes from burning cabin materials and jet fuel.
Jim Hall, former chairman of the NTSB, said in an interview soon after the crash of Flight 5191 that one of his regrets from his term on the board was that the agency didn't more aggressively research ways to reduce fiery crashes, particularly after a ValuJet Airlines DC-9 crashed during takeoff in Atlanta on June 8, 1995, and burned. Everyone on that plane escaped.
Hall, who runs a transportation consulting firm in Washington, said the airline industry should be working harder to prevent its planes from so easily bursting into flames upon an impact.
His firm, Hall and Associates, researched testing of less-combustible fuels and stronger fuel tanks after the Comair crash.
Reached last night, a member of Delta Airlines' communications team said she would refer questions to the appropriate person, but no one returned calls.
At least 13 other lawsuits have been filed in connection to the Comair crash.
Kathleen Moscoe, the administrator of Cecile Moscoe's estate, seeks unspecified damaged from parties named in the suit.