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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Comair President's Press Conference

Aired August 27, 2006 - 14:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta.
Shortly we want to take you to a press conference to take place right there out of Lexington, Kentucky. This taking place now about eight-and-a-half hours after a Comair jet crashed killing 49 people on board, and leaving one, the co-pilot, in critical condition. The airline's president Don Bornhorst is expected to hold this press conference any moment now.

You're looking at some taped pictures right now of the field in which some of the debris of that Comair jet is laying. And it appears as though a few final preparations are being made at that press conference.

Early reports indicating that the jet was traveling on a runway much shorter than a plane of that size with a full load of 50 people on board should have been on at the Blue Grass airport. The plane, flight 5191, took off at 6:05 A.M. and was bound for Atlanta, scheduled to land at 7:18 A.M. It never did, instead crashing just shortly before takeoff, or full takeoff, about half-mile off the end of the runway, which we're now learning from various sources was the wrong runway for that kind of plane.

On the right-hand side of your screen, you're seeing that a number of investigators from federal authorities on down are now continuing to look at wreckage, trying to piece together what may have gone wrong. Apparently 6:05, the time of takeoff for this Comair jet, was also the time of the last communication between the pilot and the air traffic controllers at the Blue Grass airport.

Again, 49 people of the 50 who were on board that plane presumed dead. One person, believed to be the co-pilot, now in critical condition. We're now about to listen into this press conference which will be led by the president of Comair, Don Bornhorst.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... address questions from all of you and answer any questions that you may have. So with that, Comair's President Don Bornhorst.

DON BORNHORST, COMAIR PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. I am fearful that my words here today cannot adequately express the sadness and the concern we have for everyone and all the families and all the loved ones who have been involved in this terrible tragedy today. It is a tragedy that is for the passengers of Comair, the family of Comair who deliver to those customers everyday, to the great state of Kentucky, and to the city. As we addressed earlier this morning, there were a number of facts. Those facts were some that we could share and some we could not. I would like to take the opportunity to kind of go over some of the facts that I'm sure you're interested in.

But I also want to recognize that I'm down here in Lexington, Kentucky to help our team to accomplish two things. Number one, and foremost, is to assuage the grief of all of the families and friends of the passengers who had been impacted by this great tragedy. And that would be job number one for us. But a very close second job is also to assist and to cooperate with the investigation, from the NTSB and from the FAA in any way, any way humanly possible that we can, and we will do so.

Part of that cooperation, however, will be to not impede or to at all impact negatively that investigation. And so as a result of that, one of the most damaging things that can be -- that can happen to an investigation of this measure, this magnitude, is for speculation, or for us to guess at what may be happening. And I absolutely will not do anything that is going to go back and have a negative impact for the airline, for the travel industry, for the NTSB and the FAA to adequately complete this investigation, because it is important that we understand completely what has happened here so that we can certainly address it.

And so as a result, when we get to the brief Q and A, I certainly would like to talk with you about things that we're doing for our families of our passengers and the families of our crew members. But, again, I will not be speculating about what may or may not happen, because I do not want to have a negative impact upon the investigation.

There is a number of facts that we can share with you, and I would like to do that.

First off, it is indeed flight Comair 5191 flying between Lexington and Atlanta, scheduled departure time at 6:10 a.m. at the Lexington Blue Grass international airport. I received a call earlier this morning notifying me that there had been an aircraft accident, and once we gauged the significance of it, we immediately dispatched the Emergency Command Center, and we dispatched representatives from Comair to Lexington, to its destination in Atlanta. We began establishing the Family Care Center here in Lexington, and we began working through a process of identifying the passenger name list, confirming the names on the list, and also identifying the family members.

As we speak, that effort has not been completed. And thus, that is, I understand, the interest from everyone to understand and have knowledge of the passenger name list. But as we have started that effort of contacting the passenger's next of kin and their emergency contact numbers we have from the passenger name list, we have not completed that yet. And as a result, that is certainly going to be something that is going to be a priority for us to complete first. Because as I mentioned, our number one priority is taking care of the family of everyone affected by this. Flight 5191 left with 47 passengers on board and three crew members. We have only one confirmed survivor, and that survivor has been taken to the University Hospital here at Lexington, and I have no more information than that.

As for our crew members, the Comair team that was on the flight, Captain Jeff Clay, a seven year veteran of Comair, date of hire November 1999 and he served as a captain on this equipment for past two-and-a-half years for Comair. Jim Paulhinky, the First Officer and the sole survivor of the tragic accident was hired by Comair in March of 2002. And, again, since that time he's been a first officer on this equipment. The flight attendant Kelly Hire, the date of hire of July of '04. And, again, has been on this aircraft since the coming to Comair.

Information about the aircraft specifically I can answer, and I know this is some information that people have been seeking. The registration, the tail number, the tail number of this aircraft was 7472. Registration number N431CA. That aircraft was purchased, or acquired by Comair in January of 2001. It is a 50 seat aircraft, and that 50 seat aircraft is a very typical aircraft that you see in the regional airline industry, but certainly a very common airframe type for us here at Comair, and we've had much experience in operating it.

That particular aircraft had roughly 12,000 cycles of takeoffs and landings and had roughly 14,500 flight hours logged on that aircraft itself.

The aircraft itself is powered by GE engine CF34, engines that power the airplane as they do all the Bombardier equipment. This aircraft itself is manufactured by CRJ, which stands for Canadair Regional Jet, manufactured by Bombardier, which is a very large regional jet manufacturer located in Montreal, Canada.

Before I turn over to the questions, again I want to reiterate, and we certainly have struggled with this, we recognize as Comair professionals, airline professionals, that this is indeed a risk of our industry. And we certainly prepare ourselves, and hope that you never face a situation like this. But as certainly has befallen us, and what we're going to do is we're going to take care of the family members any way that we can. We are going to aid in the investigation of the NTSB and the FAA and we are going to cooperate fully, completely, and to anyway humanly possible for us to get a conclusion about what happened here today in Lexington.

And I want to reiterate that speculation by anybody, certainly anyone from the airline, is not going to aid in that investigation and in fact certainly can impair it, and it was defeat the purpose of what we are trying to accomplish here in Lexington today.

I would like to close before I go into questions by, again, repeating this sincere sadness that all of us at Comair feel over the tragedy here today. That our feelings, our thoughts, our prayers are all offered up to the grieving families and what they're going through. Anything that we can do to assist in, we will do that. Those things include providing transportation by any mode the family members want to move them to Lexington or any place else they need to go to address this issue that is obviously of such a personal nature to them.

And so as a result, I'm not going to be discussing where they're coming from, et cetera, but rather the fact that I can assure you that we are moving them to Lexington, whoever in their family would like to come. We are providing overnight accommodations. We have (INAUDIBLE) to allow them to process this, to grieve this, to deal with this in whatever way they need to in a very private and respectful manner, and we will continue to do that. So much as I said that we will do anything we humanly can to aid the investigation; we will also do anything we humanly can to help our passengers' families and our crew members' families who have been impacted by this.

Again, in closing, I cannot tell you the emotional devastation that this brings upon an airline, both personally and for the professionals of Comair. This is a very difficult thing for the families who are affected by this, and we view the family that we have with our employees, but also the family of passengers that we serve every day, as being one that is vitally important to us. And when things like this happen, we come together, we address things as best we can, we help them through their grief and we find out what happened so nothing like this can happen again. And with that, I'll turn it over to some questions.

I have not been to the crash site at this point. My first target will be to go to where the families are, to, again to help them deal with this tremendous tragedy. The...

Question: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: I am not going to discuss anything that might impact the effectiveness of the investigation. That we are cooperating fully with the NTSB, and as a result of that we are going to focus on the family members. We have representatives at the crash site. They are aiding in that investigation. The first place I want to be is with our passengers' families to again, help them get over the tremendous tragedy that they have experienced today.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: What we have with the First Officer is that Jim is -- been brought to university hospital. We do not know his condition, it not has been released from the hospital at this point. When we can release that information, we certainly will.

QUESTION: Can you spell his last name please?

BORNHORST: Spelling of the last name, et cetera, we can certainly get that, but the cooperate communication people here, certainly. Yes Ma'am?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: Certainly. We are communicating the information that we have confirmed and things that we know are right. We think one of the most damaging things we can possibly do is communicate information that is incorrect or incomplete, and so we are going through those steps to confirm what we know with them and addressing with them.

We are asking if there is any family members that we can bring in from any place in the country, or any place in the world for that matter, and fly them into Lexington so they can be together, so they can deal with this as a family, because this is obviously a very significant tragedy for all of us. And certainly the family members my heart, my prayers, all my best wishes certainly go out to them. That is the reason I want to be with them at this point and first. Yes?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: Yes. Clearly devastated, and understandably frustrated from the standpoint of when a tragedy like this happens, information just cannot be relayed fast enough, and I certainly understand any frustration around that. And we are doing everything in our power, as I mentioned, to communicate the information we can to them that we know is correct, because we certainly do not want to compound the situation by communicating anything that is incorrect, incomplete, inaccurate, and we ask for their patience with that.

But we have care officials that are here from not only from Delta, from Comair, and we have a team that is working with the families that have gathered at that location.

But I also want to take the time, because I think it's important for us to recognize that although we are referring to this as being something that Comair and Delta are dealing with, the Red Cross, the state of Kentucky, the city of Lexington, Blue Grass International Airport could not be doing any more for us and for the families that have been impacted by this tragedy, and I thank them for everything.

I thank Heamlin (ph) today for allowing us to hold the press conference to better inform you guys of what we can talk about right now, and inform you on things that will not have a negative impact upon the investigation, which must be completed, and it must be completed in such a way that does not have the rumor and speculation around events that this will obviously attract.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: Complete emotional devastation. I have been at Comair for 15 years. I grew up in the state. I'm very proud of everything our airline accomplished. The risks that are part of this industry is something that is difficult for us to possibly comprehend the impact of anything that can go wrong here.

In a tragedy such as this, it is clearly as tragic as they are in the airline industry. And it is a very difficult thing. So for me personally, in the time that I spent with Comair, the fact that I grew up in this area, I went to school at the Eastern Kentucky University right down the road, this is my home. And for our passengers who use us from all over the world, you know, it is something that is just of the most significant, the most serious and also the most devastating thing you can have happen to your passengers, and to individuals that provide that service every single day and do it in such a great way.

I think that really sums it up. I mean, I cannot think of a better adjective to describe the emotion I have here. It is utter devastation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two more questions an then we need to move on to something.

BORNHORST: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: As I mentioned, the captain has been with us since the end of 1999, since November of 1999. He has been on equipment, this equipment or equipment like this, since his start of the career in 1999. He has two-and-a-half years as a captain in charge of this airplane for Comair.

And in the case of the First Officer who has been here since March of 2002, all of his time has been on this aircraft as a first officer. In the case of the flight attendant, the flight attendant who have served on both our 50 seat version of this aircraft and also the 70 seat Bombardier product we fly, has worked exclusively on that air' craft as well.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: I can assure you that all factors will be examined as part of this. There will not be anything that will not be taken into consideration. And, again, as a result, we are not going to go in and speculate or give information that is preliminary that will be harmful to the investigation because it will not drive out the answer we want, which is a complete understanding of all the factors. And we do not want to jump to any conclusions and we do not want to go back and speculate about what may be the cause so early on into the investigation.

I certainly understand the public's interest in knowing that. But I ask for the patience of the public, the traveling public, the citizens of Lexington, and the great commonwealth of Kentucky, for us to understand what exactly was going on here and for us to complete our investigation completely. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: We will leave that up to the investigation to reveal that we'll work completely and cooperate 100 percent in any way we can to make sure the NTSB has access to any information that we can give them until we conclude that.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BORNHORST: I know very little details that I can confirm regarding the rescue. I certainly think that is the right way to put what has happened, is the rescue of the crew member. But as far as the details, I have nothing more than he was removed from the site. He was brought to the university hospital. And that is the latest update I have as we speak. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We certainly recognize that people have very good...

WHITFIELD: You been listening to the Comair President Don Bornhorst, visibly upset. Some are describing this tragedy of Comair as "an emotional devastation for an airline, a tragedy for the passengers of Comair, the family of Comair and to that state of Kentucky."

We're going to have complete coverage of the investigation of this crash taking place earlier this morning with Comair flight 5191 out of Lexington, Kentucky, as well as following a number of other top stories for you. We're going to take a short break and be back with you in a few moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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