In blogging, I’ve found that the best way to make a fool of myself is to write blog posts about things outside of my areas of familiarity or expertise. Hence my reluctance to get into extensive tactical or strategic analyses of the war against terrorism.
That said, here I go anyway. I know next to nothing about aviation, but I’ve been wondering, with all the double and triple redundant controls which are supposed to govern these things, how on earth a plane could manage to find itself on the wrong runway, after spending 32 minutes in conversation with flight traffic control, just before the crash:

“The last communication was the takeoff clearance,” said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is participating in the inquiry along with the safety board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If the news reports are to be believed, the mistake should have been obvious to the pilot, because not only was the incorrect runway only half the length of the proper runway (which caused the crash), it’s also said to be only half as wide:

The width of the runways also is markedly different. The longer runway is 150 feet wide; the shorter one is 75 feet.

These days, I’m disinclined to believe anything I read, so (via a thorough report from a Lexington blog), I found myself directed to a satellite map of the airport. Here’s the relevant portion of the picture (the crash site is circled):

lexsatellite_2.jpg

I might be missing something, but the shorter runway does not appear to be half the width of the longer runway. The two appear to be identical in width. In fact, if you go to the satellite map and zoom in, the shorter runway appears a hair wider.
Reports also state that the larger runway had been repaved just a week before the crash, and I find myself wondering whether someone — somewhere — might be in a bit of a hurry to point the finger at the pilot, even though this is a shared responsibility.
Then there’s this recent report:

Lexington’s airport director says a repaving project a week before the fatal Comair crash altered the taxi route commercial planes take to get to the main runway, The Associated Press reports.

I don’t know much about aviation, but when what I can see with my naked eyes contradicts an important element of a news report, I wonder why.
It strikes me that no pilot would want to be on the wrong runway, that pilots would tend to follow instructions issued by the local people on the ground, and that over a course of 32 minutes of conversation the normal assumption would be that they’d have gotten the correct information out to the pilot, and it would have been confirmed.
So unless we assume reporters are simply making up facts here (possible but doubtful), who told the reporters that the shorter runway is half as wide as the wider runway if it isn’t?
(I hope they aren’t the same people involved with local air traffic control.)
UPDATE: Commenter Mark noticed that the runways are painted differently, with the shorter lane having a narrower lane painted in the middle. If runway width is defined by painted width and not actual width, that would explain the reports, although I don’t know whether the paint in the center of the lane would indicate to the pilot that the lane is too short.
Something about this incident makes no sense to me. I don’t see how a pilot could have made such a horrendous error on his own.