A commuter jet crashed during takeoff early on Sunday and burst into flames, killing 49 people and leaving the lone survivor a co-pilot in critical condition. Investigators were trying to determine if the plane had turned onto the wrong runway and ran out of pavement.
Atlanta-bound Comair Flight 5191 crashed in the predawn darkness at 6:07 am in a field less than a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the shorter of Blue Grass Airport's two runways.
The main runway is 7,000 feet (2,100 metres) long, but the shorter one is just 3,500 feet (1.050 meters) and unlit, designed mostly for small private planes. Aviation experts said the twin-engine CRJ-200 regional jet would have needed 4,500 feet (1,350 meters) to fully get off the ground.
Neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc, would speculate on the cause of the crash or say which runway the plane was on. But aerial images of the crash site in the rolling hills of Kentucky's horse country showed trees damaged at the end of the shorter runway and the nose of the crashed plane almost parallel to the smaller strip.
The plane was largely intact but in flames when rescuers reached it. A police officer burned his arms dragging the only survivor from the cracked cockpit, but the fire kept rescuers from reaching anyone else.
"They were taking off, so I'm sure they had a lot of fuel on board," Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said. "Most of the injuries are going to be due to fire-related deaths." The crash was the United States' worst domestic airplane accident in nearly five years.