Three planes nearly collide at D.C. area airport

By Kay Steiger
Thursday, August 2, 2012 10:38 EDT
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Near-collision at Ronald Reagan National Airport screenshot via CNN
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Three commercial airplanes owned by US Airways nearly collided on Wednesday afternoon during inclement weather at the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

Authorities attribute the near-crash to a “miscommunication between the Tracon and the DCA tower led to a loss of the required separation between two regional jets departing from Runway 1 and a regional jet inbound for Runway 19,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told CNN.

The audio obtained from the air traffic control tower indicates confusion. A pilot who was approaching the airport asked the tower, “We were cleared [for landing] at the river there. What happened?”

The controller paused and responded, “Stand by, we’re trying to figure this out.”

The pilot objected to calls to take a second loop as two more planes were attempting to take off. “We really don’t have enough fuel here for this. We have to get on the ground pretty quick.”

US Airways issued a statement to CNN, saying, “We are currently investigating and working with the FAA to determine what occurred. The safety of our customers and employees is always our top priority.”

National Airport has been the subject of several safety incidents in recent years. According to the Washington Post, a control tower supervisor was suspended in March when he, as the only controller on duty during the midnight-to-6 a.m. shift, failed to respond to two planes attempting to land. Some suspected he may have fallen asleep.

The FAA recorded 1,887 errors in 2010, an increase over the 1,234 recorded in 2009, even though there were fewer flights in 2010, the Post reported.

Watch the video, broadcast on CNN on Aug. 2.

Listen to the air traffic controller audio, uploaded by the Washington Post on Aug. 2.

Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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