08/26/2006 11:00PM

Kentucky horsemen among 49 killed in plane crash


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A Comair regional jet crashed Sunday morning at 6:07 a.m. shortly after take-off from Lexington's Blue Grass Field airport, killing 49 of the people 50 aboard, officials said. Flight 5191 was headed to Atlanta and was carrying 47 passengers and three crew members.

Among the confirmed dead were George Brunacini, breeder of Grade 1 winner Flower Alley and owner of Bona Terra Farm in Georgetown, Ky.; Lexington horseman Dan Mallory, a Thoroughbred breeder, owner, and seller who was a familiar face at auctions; and trainer Jeff Williams, who was based at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington.

Brunacini, 60, bred 2005 Travers winner Flower Alley and 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher Victory U.S.A., among other good horses. He recently had enjoyed a highly successful sale at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction, selling a $650,000 Distorted Humor-Our Tomboy colt to Coolmore and a $250,000 Tale of the Cat-Spree filly to John Fort.

Mallory, 55, had been headed to Texas for the upcoming Fasig-Tipton Texas summer yearling sale, which is due to start Monday. Mallory has a consignment at that auction. Mallory owned Meadow Haven Farm in Paris, Ky. Among the stakes winners Mallory sold were Traces of Gold, whom he also bred, Honor Glide, and Danthebluegrassman. He also sold the stakes-placed Noonmark. Mallory also was co-breeder of American Spirit.

Williams, 49, had been heading to Texas to meet with representatives of the Austin Polo Club, members of his family told River Downs publicist John Englehardt. Williams, whose background was with polo ponies in Ohio, was an assistant trainer to Smiley Adams in the 1970's before going out on his own. Among the horses he trained was 1985 Ohio juvenile champion Astrotrot. He is the brother of Ohio breeder Kim Williams, who operates Fair Winds Farm in Waynesville, Ohio.

Also among those confirmed dead in the crash were Marcie Thomason, 25, daughter of Mill Ridge Farm business manager Bill Thomason and his wife, Barbara, and Larry Turner, associate dean of the University of Kentucky's agriculture extension department.

Fasig-Tipton chief operating officer Boyd Browning said that all Fasig-Tipton officials expected at the Fasig-Tipton Texas sale were accounted for.

Airport officials said the sole survivor is believed to be co-pilot James Polehinke, who was undergoing surgery at the University of Kentucky hospital Sunday.

CNN was reporting Sunday that the plane, a Canadair CRJ-200, had taken off from the wrong runway, departing from a 3,500-foot runway rather than the 7,000-foot runway it should have used.

The plane crashed on private rural property owned by Nick Bentley, near the intersection of Versailles Road and Rice Road. The location is on the opposite side of Versailles Road from Keeneland Racecourse, which was being used as a staging area for emergency personnel. Major Thoroughbred farms in the area, including nurseries Darley-at-Jonabell and Mill Ridge, were not affected. Bentley told local media that he and his wife keep a few horses on the property, but neither they nor any of their livestock was injured when the plane crashed.

In a press conference in Erlanger, Ky., Comair president Don Bornhorst said that a complete list of casualties will not be released until the identities have been confirmed and families have been notified.

FAA and National Transportation Safety Board investigators were investigating on site in Lexington, Bornhorst said. Lexington coroner Gary Ginn told reporters that the plane was mostly intact with passengers inside but had endured what he termed a "hot fire" upon impact.

Comair has established a toll-free hotline for family and friends seeking information at (800) 801-0088. Comair is the commuter carrier for Delta Airlines.

The Blue Grass Field airport reopened shortly after 9 a.m.