A commuter jet was on a runway too short for its size and weight in the seconds before it crashed before dawn and burst into flames, killing 49 people and leaving the lone survivor -- a co-pilot -- in critical condition, US federal investigators said.
Preliminary flight data from the plane's black boxes and the damage at the scene indicate that Comair Flight 5191 took off from Blue Grass Airport's shortest runway on Sunday, National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said.
The 1,050m-long strip, unlit and barely half the length of the airport's main runway, is not intended for commercial flights.
It wasn't immediately clear how the plane ended up on that runway.
"We will be looking into performance data, we will be looking at the weight of the aircraft, we will be looking at speeds, we will pull all that information off," Hersmann said.
Aviation experts said the twin-engine CRJ-100 regional jet would have needed 1,350m to fully get off the ground.
The Atlanta-bound plane crashed through a perimeter fence and crashed in a field less than a kilometer from the end of that runway at about 6:07am. When rescuers reached it, the plane was largely intact but in flames. A police officer burned his arms dragging the only survivor from the cracked cockpit.
The flames kept rescuers from reaching anyone else aboard, including a honeymoon-bound couple who were married on Saturday.
The only survivor was first officer James Polehinke, who was in critical condition after surgery at a local hospital.
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