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Kentucky Plane Crash

Aired August 27, 2006 - 09:59   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning again, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.

We do continue our live break news coverage of this deadly commuter plane crash in Kentucky this morning.

HARRIS: And on this busy news day, two kidnapped journalists are free this morning in Gaza.

Howard Kurtz is following those developments.

And our weather center is tracking hurricane Ernesto, gaining muscle in the Caribbean.

NGUYEN: But with us now from the scene of this crash that we've been telling you about -- some 50 people involved in the crash, we understand one person did survive -- we want to go to an area very near the scene of the crash. Michelle Rauch with affiliate WTVQ joins us by phone.

Michelle, what have you learned so far as to what may have possibly caused this plane to go down?

MICHELLE RAUCH, REPORTER, WTVQ: Clearly too early to determine or even speculate about a cause, but what we have heard from witnesses who have been out here and from a news briefing that we have had, this plane was on takeoff. And apparently the problem, whatever that problem was, was known immediately when this plane was taking off. And the witnesses that I have spoken to this morning said that they heard what sounded like a loud boom, an explosion of some sort, and one man said that he saw a flash of light from over the hilltop on the edge of the airport property, followed by a lot of smoke. I've also heard reports that when the first responders got on the scene that this plane was engulfed; therefore, very difficult to get to the people.

Also, within 10, 15 minutes after this happened, I was also told that one person, possibly a pilot, was pulled from the plane. That person's name has not been released, but I believe it is a man, and he is at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, in critical condition. I've also been told during the news briefing that there was a man on this plane that was in the jump seat, a pilot who was not flying this plane, but was on his way to the connection to be the pilot on another plane. Now, I would like to mention, because it's happening right now, this happened a little bit after 6:00 this morning, and all air traffic was stopped. And I just saw the first plane take off from the Blue Grass Airport here in Lexington since this first happened. So it does appear that air traffic is resuming, but right now a terrible scene.

A total of 49 people have died on this flight. One person has survived, but is in critical condition right now at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

HARRIS: OK, Michelle. Tony Harris with Betty this morning. Just a -- just a quick question.

Can you sort of set the scene there for us? We understand the plane goes down shortly after 6:00 -- oh, about 6:07 this morning. Describe the scene, what you saw, what you saw happening around you when you arrived at the scene.

RAUCH: Certainly. I got here about 25 minutes after the plane went down, and when I arrived what we have out here, just to give you sort of a lay of the land...

HARRIS: Great.

RAUCH: We've got the Blue Grass Airport. Then we have a four- lane roadway which is called Versailles Road (ph), and that's very busy, four lanes, two inbound, two outbound. People clip along it at a very past face. And then across the street from the airport is our Keeneland Racetrack. So it's a very pastoral area.

When I got out here, about, as I said, 25 minutes or so after the crash, all four lanes of Versailles Road (ph) were just packed with emergency response vehicles. And there were some ambulances that were going up this dirt-type service road which is on the edge of the airport property. But the ambulance traffic, sadly, did not continue very long. And shortly after that was when the coroner's van arrived, which was certainly our earliest indication within the first hour after this happened that this was serious and that there was a loss of life.

After that, steady flow of emergency vehicles, Lexington police, Lexington fire coming up and down this service road. As far as out here on the main road, they have now opened up two lanes of traffic. Most of the emergency vehicles out on this road are now gone, but, still, over the top of the hill, which did not have a site -- this crash site because it's hilly, it's covered in trees. So we cannot see that. But still, a large, steady flow, but sadly it's a lot calmer.


RAUCH: And early on, a big rush, and now it's just sort of a calm after the storm, so to speak. Red Cross is now out here and they are, I'm told, setting up a temporary morgue out here.

HARRIS: Oh boy.

Michele, I'm hearing what appears to be -- what sounds like wind in the area, which makes me think about the weather conditions at the time of the crash. What can you tell us on that?

RAUCH: Actually this morning, just a little bit of a breeze, a little bit of wind. But this morning, around the time of the crash, there was some rain. Our meteorologist at WTVQ said that there was nothing severe in the area. So, from looking at our weather map, nothing severe that would indicate that weather would have been a problem, but there was a brief time of steady flow of rain, and the roads were very slick out here then.

HARRIS: Any -- any evidence that the NTSB go team is on the ground?

RAUCH: I do not believe they are here yet, but I know that they are definitely en route, and we have been told that possibly around the noon hour they might be having a news conference to bring all of us up to date on what's going on. But definitely en route. And right now, though, we've got local and state authorities are out here as well. Kentucky state police have responded as well.

HARRIS: And one of the interesting footnotes to all of this is that, I think I was listening to your reporting that the main runway at this airport had recently been resurfaced.

RAUCH: Actually, if memory serves me, that might have been just last weekend. If not last weekend, definitely within two weeks. They closed the airport on a Friday evening and reopened it at 6:00 on a Sunday evening, and completely repaved the entire runway. So it has a brand new surface out there.

HARRIS: Not that the runway had anything to do with this.

RAUCH: Right.

HARRIS: But clearly, just a note of irony in all of this.

Michelle, any sense that -- have you been able to talk to -- and the answer is probably no at this point -- but do you even have a sense of whether or not family, friends of the folks who were on that plane are still on location there at that airport?

RAUCH: I have heard from one of our other reporters that's on the airport property -- we're across the street here where the entrance is to the -- to the scene -- and one of our other reporters has indicated that there is some family showing up. They do have a meeting room here at the Blue Grass Airport that's set up, really, in case of tragedies like this, that can be a gathering place for family and friends to come. And the Lexington Police Department has also brought out a couple of their chaplains.

So they do have people out here. So they are prepared for family and friends to arrive out here in response to this, in addition to the 1-800 line that they have set up that people are encouraged to call to get more information that way.

So that they're ready on the phones. They're ready out here at the Blue Grass Airport for anyone who's going to come out here and need information and need assistance.

HARRIS: Well, it's a horrible story, but, Michelle, you've done a wonderful job in reporting it. And our viewers have benefited from watching your coverage of this tragedy this morning.

RAUCH: Thank you.

HARRIS: Michele Rauch of our CNN affiliate there in Lexington, Kentucky, WTVQ.

Michelle, thank you for your time.

NGUYEN: Michele talked about phone numbers for people to call, especially those with family and friends on board that flight and those here in Atlanta. That flight originating from Lexington, Kentucky, headed to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

Many family and friends are at the Atlanta airport waiting to hear more information on exactly what has happened. You can see it at the lower left-hand corner of your screen. That 1-800-801-0088 is a hot line for Delta passenger information.

In the meantime, we -- if you look at the top right-hand corner in that small box there, it just zoomed in on a notepad. But in that corner we are waiting for a news conference top ginn. You see the podium there.

That should have happened already. It was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We're about eight minutes after the hour. So it should be happening at any minute now.

That is going to be a news conference where Comair is going to be telling us as much as they possible can about exactly what happened on board this flight, about the plane that went down and the passengers one board that plane. So as soon as that happens, that's in Erlanger, Kentucky, which is near Cincinnati, which is Comair's base. And when that news conference happens, we will take it live.

But in the meantime, we are still gathering as much information as we can about exactly what happened this morning after 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time when this plane took off from the Blue Grass airport, Flight 5191 headed to Atlanta.

Here's a listen to what some of the witnesses had to say about what they saw and heard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard -- the windows shook in the house. I live on top of the hill, right on top of (INAUDIBLE). And, you know, windows shook, and I really thought it was a big clap of thunder, so I didn't think much about it. And I heard the sirens and got a towel and I came -- I went out the back door and looked and there was no one there. And I just looked around, and I saw -- over the hillside I saw the flash of light and then the explosion, and then just a big plume of smoke come up.


NGUYEN: So you heard it there, a flash of light and an explosion. We don't know if that happened as the plane hit the ground or if there was some kind of explosion on board shortly before it crashed into this field, this wooded area about a mile from the airport. But we know there was very little time between takeoff and when the plane crashed.

A lot of the questions are surrounding the weather, if that had anything to do with it. We've kind of gotten a sense that it may not have. But just for a check of all of this, to get our hands wrapped around the situation, let's toss it over now to CNN's Bonnie Schneider in the weather center to give us an update on what the weather was like around 6:00 a.m. this morning when that flight took off from Lexington, Kentucky -- Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Betty, the weather was changeable really at that time. The sun was just coming up. We had partly cloudy skies.

There were storms in the area. And in the past six hours only a trace of rainfall reported right here at the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky.

To the south and to the east, some stronger thunderstorms have been rolling on through. You can see it here on the map as they continue to work their way from west to east. Over the most part, though, these thunderstorms did not produce any lightning.

We used our lightning data technology and we didn't detect lightning strikes. Only one strike of lightning in the past six hours, and really not that close to where the airport was.

Not picture-perfect conditions, though, weather-wise either, because visibility has been limited to six miles. And usually that does indicate that the sky is obscured in some way. And sure enough, as we went through the morning hours, by 7:00 a.m. the airport was reporting overcast skies.

So it wasn't a perfectly clear day, but it wasn't really violent as far as thunderstorms go. We did see the storms rolling to the south of city, and heavy downpours managed to avoid Lexington, though there were spotty showers in the region -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Bonnie, as the investigation continues right now, obviously NTSB is going to be out there, the FAA, state, local authorities. And, you know, there's also going to be a search for those who were on board that plane.

Is the weather going to hamper any of that? Because there's a lot of critical information still to be gathered. SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. Right now it doesn't look too bad, but later this afternoon, with the heating of the day, as the atmosphere becomes unstable, as it already is, what happens is we get the heating of the day, and that definitely tends to ignite more thunderstorms. So, the earlier the better, because after we get to about 3:00 to 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., we have a better chance of thunderstorms popping up in Lexington.

NGUYEN: All right.

CNN's Bonnie Schneider in the weather center for us this morning.

As we continue to follow this story we want to give you an idea of exactly how this investigation is going to play out. And for that, a former NTSB vice chairman, Bob Francis, was talking to us about this investigation just a little bit earlier.

Take a listen as he walks us through how it's going to play out.


HARRIS: Is that correct?

BOB FRANCIS, FMR. NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: That's correct. And that's a -- one of the board members, and that board member is designated by (INAUDIBLE). So (INAUDIBLE) and there's an accident, you go.

HARRIS: How many members of this go team?

FRANCIS: I would guess this is obviously a serious accident. I would guess a dozen, maybe.

HARRIS: About a dozen. And what are their responsibilities? They hit the ground and -- walk us through the initial phases of this investigation.

FRANCIS: Well, the person who manages the investigation is the investigator in charge, and that will be a fairly senior NTSB investigator. And then -- so when they get there, one of the first things, obviously, they'll want to do is go to the -- go to the site of the accident and sort of see what they're dealing with.

Then, having done that, they will decide based on what they're seeing how they're going to organize. And what you end up is, you have different groups of people that work on this. And you'll have an air traffic group and an operational group and a structures group, and maybe an engines group or a meteorology group, or whatever it is, depending on what you think the issues may be.

And then this evening there will be an organizational meeting, again, chaired by the investigator in charge. And these groups will be -- will be designated, a decision will be made. And then parties in the investigation, which include the FAA, it will be Comair. If there's a Comair pilot's -- if they're a remember of Alpha (ph), and I can't remember whether they are, the airline pilots, they would be a member.


NGUYEN: We're going to take you now life to Erlanger, Kentucky, where you see this press conference is about to begin. Comair is holding this press conference. We understand it's about two minute away.

Let me tell you how this is going to play out.

Nick Miller is the Comair spokesperson. He is going to be speaking first. Then after that he is going to introduce Don Bornhorst, who is the Comair president.

A little history about this carrier. As far as we know, in the research that we've done so far, there have been three crashes in its history. The most recent crash was back in the 1990s. This airline was founded in 1997 and, as you know, Comair is a subsidiary of Delta Airlines.

This flight was headed from Lexington, Kentucky, to Atlanta, Georgia, around 6:00 a.m. Eastern time this morning when it landed in a wooded area about a mile from the airport. And when I say landed, it crash-landed there. And as far as we know, there is only one survivor from the 50 people on board that plane.

We are told from witnesses that it's been a fiery crash. It's really kind of confusing as to whether the fire that they're talking about happened shortly before the crash or if it happened upon that plane crashing into this wooded area. Hopefully we'll learn more right now as we listen in to this news conference from Comair.

NICK MILLER, COMAIR SPOKESMAN: Thank you for coming out early on a Sunday morning to report on what is a very tragic situation.

Without further ado, I want to introduce Comair president Don -- D-O-N -- Bornhorst -- B-O-R-N-H-O-R-S-T.

Thank you -- Don.

DON BORNHORST, COMAIR PRESIDENT: Good morning, everyone.

On behalf of everyone at Comair, I cannot adequately express to you our sadness about this accident and our deep concern for everyone involved. My thoughts and prayers and the thoughts and prayers of everyone at Comair, the entire team, are certainly with them.

It is certainly with a heavy heart that I share with you some of the facts that we have -- we have confirmed at this point. The information we can share with you is still in the process of being worked, but I can communicate the information that we do know right now.

First of all, the flight number is 5191. Flight 5191 was departing Lexington for Atlanta this morning at 6:10, was involved in an accident at the end of the runway in Lexington, Kentucky. The accident site is approximately a half a mile from the end of the runway in Lexington. As I mentioned, it occurred at about 6:10 this morning. There were 47 passengers on board that aircraft and three crewmembers.

I'll give you some information regarding the crew members because we have confirmed their names. We have talked with the family members and loved ones.

First off, the captain's name is Jeffrey Clay (ph). Jeff Clay (ph) has been with us for seven years. His date of hire was November of 1999. He became a captain for us in 2004 and is very familiar with the aircraft.

The aircraft is a CRJ 50-seat aircraft. The aircraft itself has been operated by this crew for quite some time.

The first officer's name is Jim Paulhanky (ph). Jim, who was the first officer of our aircraft, has been with us since 2004.

The flight attendant's name is Kelly Hire (ph), and Kelly (ph) is a male. Kelly (ph) has been with us since 2004 as well.

Let me make one correction. Jim Paulhanky (ph) has been with us since 2002.

From our officials at the scene we do have the confirmation of one surviving member of the passenger or crew group. We are not at a point today to confirm outside the number of passengers and the number of crew members. We certainly will release that information when it is available, and I'll take any questions you guys want to ask and answer them as best I can.

QUESTION: Is there a possibility that the plane took off from the wrong runway? (INAUDIBLE)?

BORNHORST: Let me finish my statement and then we'll answer that question. OK?

At this early stage, I want to emphasize our commitment to our passengers, their family and friends that we're on board Flight 5191.

Family members and friends from the U.S. inquiring about the passengers aboard this flight can call 1-800-801-0088.

Our top priorities at this time are as follows.

Number one, we're going to care for the families and the loved ones on board Flight 5191. That is first and foremost.

We are in full support of the ensuing investigations that will involve the FAA and the NTSB.

And finally, we're going to support the operation and the other customers within the commerce system. We cannot speculate on the cause of this accident. As I mentioned before, we will be working closely with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board and their agencies that conduct a full investigation to determine the cause of this tragedy.

I personally pledge to you a total commitment of Comair and all of its employees to this effort. Equally, I will commit to you that we will keep the media and the public informed on developments as they are confirmed. This includes working with the NTSB on the releases of the names and the status of the passengers and crewmembers.

The names of those aboard Flight 5191 will be made public only after the proper authorities have been -- have been contacted and those individuals have been positively identified, and we have confirmation that we've made contact with their families and they have been adequately notified. This can be a very time-consuming process, and because we want to be absolutely certain that this very sensitive information is correct -- and you can guys can certainly understand the sensitivity of it -- please be patient with us as we work through that.

Again, we have established a toll-free number to urge the families and friends on board to call us, and I want to repeat that again -- 1-800-801-0088.

I have been in touch with Delta's chief executive -- I'm sorry, Delta chief operating officer, Jim Whitehurst, as well as other Delta executives this morning. I was notified almost immediately of the incident, and we have mobilized our teams both in our emergency response center here at our offices, and we have officials on the scene in Lexington as well.

Comair has the full support of Delta in providing our airline with any resources necessary to assist the families and the investigators involved in this accident. In the coming days and weeks we promise to work as diligently as we can to continue to take care of our passengers, and, again, to work through the investigation.

Let me reiterate one last time, we are absolutely, totally committed to do everything humanly possible to determine the cause of this accident. On behalf of the 6,400 members of the Comair team, I cannot adequately express to you the sadness about this accident and the deep concern for everyone that's involved. My thoughts and prayers and the thoughts and prayers of the entire Comair team are with them.

I will now take your questions and I will answer them as best we can.




BORNHORST: Absolutely. We can communicate that we acquired this aircraft directly from Bombardier's new aircraft in January 2001.

The maintenance activity on that aircraft has been up on to date, and it had routine maintenance performed on it as early -- I'm sorry, as late as yesterday. There is nothing that we are seeing right now that is jumping out as far as any particulars that I can share with you beyond that. But the aircraft, again, purchased in January of '01 is a new aircraft, clean maintenance record. All maintenance routines were normal on that aircraft as far as the information we have right now.


BORNHORST: I do have some information on that. The number of cycles on that aircraft were 12,048, and the number of aircraft hours on that were 14,500, which is consistent with an aircraft of that age.


BORNHORST: Routine scheduled maintenance. Nothing unusual.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the crew? What was their last flight before yesterday? How many hours did they work? What was their layover? Did they -- were they (OFF-MIKE)?

BORNHORST: Yes, that is all part of the investigation. And we certainly will work through that with the NTSB. We will give you that more specific information as it's possible for us to do so.

QUESTION: What are the requirements for number of hours in the cockpit and the number of hours between -- between cycles?

BORNHORST: Yes. This crew, as far as its schedule, et cetera, was on a legal rest period well beyond what is required by the FAA and within our own standards of our airline. And as far as the -- you know legal rest requirements, et cetera, more complicated than we can get into as part of this press conference. And then, also, certainly will be part of the investigation.

QUESTION: Were they on layover last night in Lexington to begin the flight this morning?

BORNHORST: That is my understanding, yes.


BORNHORST: I think that is the rumor and speculation that would be not good for any of us to go down right now. And again, we are -- we are working with the NTSB and working with the FAA, complying with all the investigation. As information is released, we certainly will let you know as soon as we possibly can.


BORNHORST: I do not have confirmation of that. And again, it's part of the investigation which we're undertaking now.


Can you comment on that? What you know from the NTSB?

BORNHORST: Again, part of the investigation from just living in the area and my understanding of the weather in Lexington, that there was nothing of any type of weather challenge out there that stands out. But again, part of the investigation that we're working through. And as the information is confirmed and made available -- again, I made a complete commitment to you guys that we will communicate everything we can and as timely as we can.


BORNHORST: My understanding is that we have officials from both agencies on the scene in Lexington. As I mentioned, we have Comair officials and backup teams -- Comair officials on site already, a backup team heading down there to relieve them so we can continue to work through this.

We have care teams that are mobilized on communicating the information that's appropriate once it has been confirmed to the family members. And, you know, certainly in the media that we've had, coverage from the accidents in (INAUDIBLE) Virginia, I mean, it is best for us to confirm, hands down, all of the information before we release anything.


BORNHORST: Sure. We have those care team officials dispatched in Lexington. We have them dispatched in Atlanta to handle any family and friends who might anticipate meeting passengers aboard that flight.

We have identified officials that will work with them, that have trained, experience, and know exactly how to handle these situations as best as possible. And those teams are formed not only on the scene in Lexington and Atlanta as we speak, but also back here in Cincinnati, in our headquarters. And I can assure you that starting immediately we mobilized that team in Cincinnati and that emergency center is up and running and gathering information. And again, working with all of the officials at the airports, at the local police departments, with the NTSB, with the FAA, and then also, as I mentioned, coordinating with the care teams to make sure that we take care of all of the families and loved ones of our passengers and give them every piece of information that we have.


BORNHORST: Sure. First off, when I say it's with a heavy heart that we handle this, this is -- the airline industry has these risks, and so you brace yourself for them as best you can.

I can tell you based upon getting notified the difficulty that you experience in receiving such news is hard. But you also recognize that there is an obligation that we have to all of our passengers, to the communities which we serve, to the media that helps us communicate with them. And then, lastly, to each other within Comair.

People were very responsive. They were in the emergency centers, they were dispatched to Lexington.

We mobilized in Atlanta with coordination with Delta. We pulled the care teams together and we started working through the steps of our emergency response plan that every carrier has, that you drill and practice on and you do those things just to make sure you can handle these type of situations. And again, control the information, make sure there isn't anything that gets released that is going to be incorrect or would be damaging to any family members. So we absolutely respect that entire process first, and then, again, total commitment to you guys to communicate the information when we have it confirmed and it's in a state that it can be communicated accurately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have time for maybe one or two more questions. And Don has to get back.


BORNHORST: Sure. Emotionally devastating. I mean, this is -- these are -- these are tough things. And very difficult. And with the emotion that comes with that also comes a commitment to understand everything that's going on to make sure these things are understood, certainly avoided in the future, and clearly want to do everything we possibly can to empathize and to console and assuage the grief of all the passengers' families, to do the same with the Comair family, which is not only the family members of the crewmembers I mentioned, but also their friends and co-workers here at Comair.

So, personal reaction is -- is, again, complete devastation. You -- emotionally, you try to deal with this, recognizing that we also have a job to do in this. And that is part of the code of ethics, I guess, if you will, for the professionals at Comair. This is difficult things to deal with, and we will deal with them, and we will come from that resolve to make sure we understand and we communicate everything we possibly can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more question.

BORNHORST: Alex, you have a question?


BORNHORST: We are not sharing detailed number (ph) information until the investigation is moving forward with the NTSB. But again, as I mentioned, we will communicate that as quickly as we can in coordination with those investigations.


BORNHORST: We're not releasing that information right now, but, again, as we can give you more information we certainly will do that. And again, you have our complete commitment on that on the media's side. But again, I want to make sure they take care of the families first. I want to make sure we do it with absolutely correct information. And then we'll talk with you.

QUESTION: For those flying on Comair today, what -- everything else is on schedule? (OFF-MIKE)

BORNHORST: It is. The Lexington airport has been reopened. Our operations will operate as normal. There is nothing that we have identified in the information we have today to make that any question as far as whether or not that that is the right thing to do or not. And we will continue to operate.

And again, as we work with you guys, you can certainly understand that we're going to have several different efforts going on here, and we also will be running an airline. And really in reference to what was my own personal reaction to all this, in a weird way I feel as though that is pretty minimal in comparison to what everyone else is going at Comair as well.

And again, we all recognize that we're professionals in this industry that has these risks. And you hope and pray that these things do not happen. But when they do, the team we have at Comair is one that will work through this.

We will continue to offer the service to our passengers. We will do it in a certainly safe manner and with the customer service emphasis that we have always had with our flights. But really, my personal reaction to this, I'm sure, is no different than what the other people at Comair are going through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One last question and then we really do have to go.


BORNHORST: This certainly is part of the investigation. You know, all security, mechanical, flight aspects. I mean, the investigation that we conduct, in coordination with the NTSB, the investigation the NTSB does on behalf of the industry, and along with the FAA, is a very engrossing one, and it certainly would cover all aspects of that. But as we speak today, we have no information that we can share with you right now regarding any specifics.

Thank you very much.

NGUYEN: And you have been listening to Comair president Don Bornhorst, shedding a little more insight onto this crash that happened around 6:00 a.m. Eastern in Lexington, Kentucky. You have Comair Flight 1591...

HARRIS: 5191, yes.

NGUYEN: ... 5191 that took off at 6:00 a.m., headed for Atlanta, Georgia.

Here's what we know about that flight.

It crashed about a half mile outside of the runway in a wooded area. And 47 people onboard passenger-wise. This was a pretty full flight. Three crew members.

Here's what we know about the crew members.

Those names have been released per the Comair president. He read them just moments ago, and I'll tell you who they are again.

Captain Jeffrey Clay (ph), he's been with Comair for seven years. He was very familiar with this aircraft.

Also, the first lieutenant. That person is Jim Paulhanky (ph). He's been with Comair for four years.

And the flight attendant, Kelly Hire (ph), who is a male, had been with Comair for two years.

There was one person who survived this crash. And that person is a passenger, a male. We don't know much about him, except for the fact that he's been taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center and that he is in critical condition.

HARRIS: The FAA will launch an investigation, as you know. The NTSB will also launch an investigation. We understand the NTSB go crew, the team that represents the first responders to a crash like this, is on its way to the location right now.

Just a devastating day for friends and family of everyone who was on board this flight. Family members going back to the airport there, the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington. Of course, they're -- we're talking about family members and friends who were waiting to receive that plane and those passengers once they arrived here at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

This is one of the largest regional airlines in the country, and it operates under the name Delta Connection, Comair. It is an airline that was established in 1977 and began to operate and fly planes in April of -- actually, in 1978.

Just a devastating day for Comair, the Comair family, and, of course, by extension, the Delta family.

We will continue to follow developments in this story, but let's take a break.

You're watching continuing coverage of this crash of Comair Flight 5191 on CNN.


HARRIS: And just moments ago we heard from Comair's president, Don Bornhorst, about the crash of Comair Flight 5191 this morning, oh, about 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time as it was departing Lexington's Blue Grass Airport en route to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The plane crashing about a mile -- half a mile from the end of the runway and, by all accounts, just a fiery crash.

The confirmed dead so far, the flight crew, Captain Jeff Clay (ph), first officer Jim Paulhanky (ph), and flight attendant Kelly Hire (ph). Investigations to be launched shortly by the FAA and the NTSB. We understand the go crew of the NTSB, the first team, the first responders to a crash site, are on their way to the scene there at the Lexington Blue Grass Airport.

Comair, which is a subsidiary of Delta, we understand that Comair and Delta have been in contact over this crash and will be doing everything they can to support the family and friends of the passengers who were on board this flight.

NGUYEN: The president has also been keeping abreast of this crash. A statement released from the White House saying that, "The president was deeply saddened by the news of the plane crash in Kentucky today. His sympathies are with the many families of the victims of this tragedy."

We're also being told by administration officials that senior staff is keeping the president updated on the hostage release. We're talking about the two FOX News journalists who have been set free today. And the president is also keeping tabs on Hurricane Ernesto, another major story that we are following.

It's been a very busy morning. Here's a look at the radar there.

Let's bring in CNN's Bonnie Schneider to give us an update on Hurricane Ernesto, which has gained in strength.

In fact, I understand we don't have Bonnie with us just yet, but as you can see, it was a tropical storm, for those of you who may be just tuning in. Overnight -- a tropical storm, really, up until 5:00 a.m. this morning...


NGUYEN: ... when Ernesto turned into a hurricane.

So we'll get more from Bonnie Schneider in just a moment.

HARRIS: And the other big story that we're following today is the release of the two journalists who have been held captive for the past two weeks in Gaza.

Howard Kurtz, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" is following that story for us.


HARRIS: If you are just waking up this morning, there are three breaking news stories that CNN is aggressively following.

In Kentucky, a Comair commuter plane bound for Atlanta crashed during takeoff. Forty-nine people were killed, one person survived and is hospitalized in critical condition. NGUYEN: That plane was headed from Lexington, Kentucky, to Atlanta Georgia. In fact, to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

We want to take you live now there to the airport and CNN's Randi Kaye, who is on scene.

Randi, I imagine there's a lot going there not only to notify family and friends, but to provide some kind of counseling and some kind of information as to exactly what has happened.


I'm at actually the north terminal here at Atlanta Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport, and Comair and Delta is located in the south terminal. But this is where they keep the media for all occasions, especially in an instance as this one.

We have been over there earlier this morning looking for some family members. We haven't been able to find any yet. We have checked the third floor over there, which is sort of the executive level, where the conference rooms are. That's where we've been told the families would be gathering. But no luck in speaking to these family members yet or finding any of these family members.

We are also told by both Comair and Delta that they have what's called care teams or care workers. They're here at this airport. They're also at the Lexington airport. And what they do is they help the families deal and cope with what's happened, and certainly all of the news coming from this tragedy.

That plane, as you mentioned, was heading here to Atlanta. It was supposed to land here at 7:18 this morning. So we are coming up on about four hours now.

And you know the routine here, Betty. At any airport around -- around the world, families come to pick up their loved ones. So you can only imagine the heartbreaking news when they heard that that flight was not going to make it here to Atlanta.

So we do understand that there are family members here. It's just a matter of finding them.

We also are told by Comair that they will be doing everything humanly possible to get some answers to these families. These families are going to want to know what happened.

Was it weather? Was it maintenance? We do understand that plane went through some routine maintenance yesterday, but again, families here certainly will be looking for answers, and we will -- we will be hoping to speak with them just a little bit later on.

Betty, from here, back to you.

NGUYEN: Yes, they will be looking for answers. They are going to be so devastated. It's a very difficult day.

Randi, thank you for that.

HARRIS: And let's get you the latest update on Hurricane Ernesto. Bonnie Schneider is in the CNN hurricane headquarters.


NGUYEN: And CNN is continuing to watch many of these developing stories: the plane crash out of Kentucky, the FOX News journalists who were freed today, and, of course, Hurricane Ernesto.

So you'll want to keep it tuned to CNN for more news on all of these developing stories.

HARRIS: Wolf Blitzer and "LATE EDITION" is next.



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