CNN.com – FAA: Tower staffing during plane crash violated rules – Aug 29, 2006
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday acknowledged that only one controller was in the tower, in violation of FAA policy, when a Comair jet crashed Sunday while trying to take off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Kentucky.
Forty-nine of 50 people aboard were killed.
The acknowledgment came after CNN obtained a November 2005 FAA memorandum spelling out staffing levels at the airport. The memo says two controllers are needed to perform two jobs — monitoring air traffic on radar and performing other tower functions, such as communicating with taxiing aircraft.
And utterly none of that matters. Yes, it’d have been nice if there had been two controllers. Maybe they could have averted the disaster, and this utterly meaningless loss of life. Maybe not. That’s all speculation at best.
What does matter is that a professional aircrew didn’t follow their procedures, and didn’t do even a basic review of their compass heading prior to taking off. Those checks should have told them they were on the wrong runway, and the Captain of the Ship doctrine applies in a plane as much as it does on a ship. If it happens on your watch, it’s your fault, whether you were asleep or on the bridge.
I’m sorry for the loss of life, and I’m glad I wasn’t there, but the Tower controller didn’t have control of the throttles or the brakes on that jet. Only the aircrew did, and that’s where the responsibility lies. Period.