Near Collision Near D.C.: Planes Were 12 Seconds From Possible Impact

Frightening front page news from The Washington Post this morning:

“Three commuter jets came within seconds of a midair collision at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday after confused air traffic controllers launched two outbound flights directly at another plane coming in to land, according to federal officials with direct knowledge of the incident.”

It adds that “the inbound plane and the first of the outbound planes were closing the 1.4 miles between them at a combined speed of 436 mph, a rate that meant they were about 12 seconds from impact when the tower controller recognized her mistake” and the planes’ paths were altered. All three aircraft were from USAirways. About 190 passengers and crew were on board the planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating, the Post says. And The Associated Press reports that “USAirways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said in an email that the airline is ‘currently investigating and working with the FAA to determine what occurred. The safety of our customers and employees is always our top priority.’ “

The incident happened as controllers were rerouting traffic because of an approaching storm. LiveATC.net has audio of the conversations between controllers and pilots in its archives.

Reagan National was in the news back in March 2011 because of an air traffic supervisor who fell asleep one night, forcing two pilots to pretty much land on their own.

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