Survivor of Comair crash undergoes surgery to stabilize spine; another lawsuit filed

Wednesday, September 27th 2006, 2:38 pm
By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ The co-pilot who survived the crash of Comair Flight 5191 underwent another surgery Wednesday and could be released in a few days, hospital officials said.

Doctors are operating on James Polehinke to stabilize his fractured spine, said Andrew Bernard, a trauma surgeon at University of Kentucky Hospital who treated Polehinke after the crash. The co-pilot was the lone survivor of the Aug. 27 crash that killed 49 people.

If the surgery goes well, Polehinke could leave the hospital as soon as next week, said Matt Cantor, a hospital spokesman. Polehinke then will start months of rehabilitation.

His family said this week that Polehinke's left leg has been amputated. Other surgeries have repaired his broken right leg and foot.

``It's possible he won't be able to walk again, but only time will tell,'' Bernard said.

A police officer pulled Polehinke out of the charred wreckage after the regional jet crashed trying to take off from Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.

According to federal investigators, the captain taxied the jet onto a runway that was too short before Polehinke took over the controls and tried to get the jet airborne. The taxiway route had been changed a week before the crash due to construction.

Meanwhile, a crash victim's family sued the airline Tuesday, claiming negligence. The lawsuit filed by the mother of Cecile Moscoe is among a half-dozen filed in federal court against Comair and its parent company, Delta Air Lines.

One lawsuit in state court involving a disagreement among relatives of a crash victim also names the airline as a defendant.

At the airport before dawn Wednesday, about a dozen family members watched as attorneys and experts inspected the runways and taxiways under conditions intended to resemble those when the plane crashed that morning.

David Gleave, an investigator hired by a lawyer representing a family suing Comair, said the inspection showed that runway markings are too small, poorly placed and barely visible in the dark.

Robert Clifford, an attorney representing another family, said pilots wouldn't have been able to see the end of the shorter runway during takeoff, making it more difficult to abort.

He noted though that the data needed to be analyzed.