AP Course-Corrects

Filed under:Need a Good Editor?,Sad — posted by Anwyn on August 30, 2006 @ 8:22 am

Yesterday I took the AP to task for wrongly implying that the first officer was at the controls of Comair 5191 when it taxied onto the wrong runway.

Today’s AP article corrects the error without reference to the incorrect article:

Polehinke was flying the plane when it crashed, but it was the flight’s captain, Jeffrey Clay, who taxied the aircraft onto the wrong runway, Hersman said. Clay then turned over the controls to Polehinke for takeoff, the investigator said.

Before Hersman’s briefing on Tuesday, the NTSB said Polehinke was flying the plane; it made no mention of Clay being the one who taxied the plane into position.

And people deride Fox News for, they say, taking dictation from press briefings. It sounds like the AP could take a lesson here. I.E. taking the press briefing as delivered, without unconfirmed extraneous assumptions, might be a good thing. They took “Polehinke was flying the plane” and extrapolated into “Polehinke taxied onto the wrong runway” without bothering to get the NTSB to confirm or deny. A mistaken assumption that led to a smear of the surviving pilot.

Today’s article also casts a grim light on the role the tower played in the accident:

The lone traffic controller at Blue Grass Airport cleared a flight for takeoff, then turned his back to handle administrative work.

What the controller didn’t see, a federal investigator said, was the Atlanta-bound jet heading down the wrong runway.

The “lone traffic controller” was in violation of an FAA policy that requires at least two controllers in the tower specifically so that there will be one controller to handle “control tower observations.”

It’s not the first time familiarity has led to slackness has led to deaths. Nobody, from the FAA on down to the pilots, will come out of this without a black mark. I’m glad the AP has recognized its error of yesterday, but yesterday’s story is still out there without clarification or caveat. Speaking of slackness.

Update: CNN specifically mentioned the nosewheel tiller and the fact that Clay taxied the plane. Somebody, either press or NTSB, must’ve cottoned to the fact that Polehinke was getting a worse rap than he deserved–and “deserved” in this case is quite bad enough–because the lead NTSB investigator made sure CNN had these facts:

Hersman said it was the flight’s captain, Jeffrey Clay, who taxied the aircraft into position at the start of the wrong runway. Clay then turned over the controls to the co-pilot, James Polehinke, who was flying the plane when it crashed. Hersman said that was standard procedure since only the captain can reach the tiller used to steer the plane while it’s on the ground.

You don’t say.

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