Three commuter jets had what must have been a terrifyingly close call for pilots at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday when two flights trying to take off almost collided directly with another commuter jet coming in to land on the runway. All three planes are operated by US Airways and carried 192 passengers and crew members total, said the airline.
Everyone got to their destinations without any further issues, but being on a plane that almost hits another plane probably left more than a few folks rattled — if passengers even realized what was going on. This is just one of thousands of errors air traffic controllers have recorded, notes the Washington Post.
During Tuesday’s incident, an approaching storm caused the wind to shift and an air traffic control center in Warrenton was trying to reverse the flow of planes into the airport, rerouting them. Those controllers spoke with the tower at National.
“The tower agreed, but they didn’t pass it on to all the people they needed to pass it on to,” said a federal official who didn’t want to speak publicly.
The flight that had cleared to land ended up flying straight at two planes that had both just taken off, with 1.4 miles between them and a combined speed of 436 mph — that comes down to about 12 seconds from impact when the tower controller realized she’d made a mistake.
She checked with the inbound pilot to see if he was on her radio frequency and then ordered him to turn abruptly to avoid the other planes. He did so, avoiding a collision.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement on the matter finally last night, saying it was investigating the incident.
One official blames it simply on a basic communication failure.
Apparently National is known for having close calls and snafus, including an incident last year where a controller supervisor fell asleep on duty and didn’t respond when other regional controllers were trying to pass planes on to him for the final approach.