August 31, 2006

The Lexington, Ky, air traffic controller on duty Sunday morning at the time Comair Flight 5191 crashed may have only had 2 hours of sleep before his shift. At a Thursday night press briefing, National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said that the controller, who has remained unidentified, had had 9 hours off between shifts, but reported that he had only slept 2 of those hours. In addition, he was working alone even though the Federal Aviation Administration directs airports to have at least two controllers on duty.

Air traffic controllers are generally trained in fatigue management and are not supposed to be penalized for not reporting for duty because of lack of sleep. However, a small regional airport like the one in Lexington would have had to close if the lone controller available for duty could not work.

According to Hersman, the controller had worked from 6:30 AM to 2:30 PM on Saturday and then returned to work at 11:30 PM for an 8-hour overnight shift.

Earlier in the week, experts had raised questions about how much sleep the pilots may have had. According to CNN, the pilots checked into their hotel a little after 10 PM on Saturday night and they would have had to be back at the airport shortly after 4:00 on Sunday morning in order to prepare for the 6:00 AM flight.

The crash, which killed all but one of the 50 people on board, occurred when the plane made a wrong turn and ended up trying to take off from a runway that was too short for it.