LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A banner reading ``Remembering 5191" hung near Blue Grass Airport yesterday as relatives of the 49 people killed in the Comair commuter plane crash arrived at the site of the disaster for a private memorial service.
Buses took them to the field where the plane went down early Sunday. Like that morning, there was a light rain yesterday in Lexington, but it subsided before the service.
Federal investigators are looking into several possible factors that could have contributed to Sunday's deadly crash: a repaving project that had changed the taxiway route, the staffing in the control tower, and the pilots themselves.
The crew of Comair Flight 5191 at first boarded the wrong plane after checking in at 5:15 a.m., National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said. A ramp worker alerted them to the error, and they moved to the right jet.
In the tower, only one traffic controller was on duty, a violation of Federal Aviation Administration policy, the FAA acknowledged Tuesday.
The controller cleared the regional jet for takeoff, then turned his back to handle administrative work and didn't see it head down the wrong runway, a strip that wasn't long enough for the twin-engine jet.
The crew struggled to get the plane airborne on the too-short runway, and it crashed in a nearby field, killing everyone aboard but the first officer, James Polehinke, who was pulled from the burning plane. Polehinke remained hospitalized yesterday in critical condition.
Polehinke's mother, Honey Jackson, said her son is not to blame for the crash, and she asked people to be patient until all the facts were revealed.
``He could die at any moment," said Jackson, who lives in Miami.
Polehinke was flying the plane when it crashed, but it was the flight's captain, Jeffrey Clay, who taxied the aircraft onto the wrong runway, Hersman said.
Clay's wife, Amy Clay, said he was a conscientious pilot and stickler for details.
``He was an excellent pilot, and my heart is broken for everyone involved in this, but I know with all my heart that they could not have been in better hands than they were with Jeff," she told The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Both crew members were familiar with the Lexington airport, Hersman said.