Controllers Say Jets Miss by Only 300 Feet; British Airline Disagrees
Two passenger jets carrying more than 250 people came within 300 vertical feet of each other last weekend, a spokesman for the air traffic controllers union said Thursday.
Another union official said one of the planes, a British Airways flight from London to Atlanta, flew about 1,000 miles over Canada and the United States without contacting a controller.
A British Airways spokesman said there were no reports of communication problems or of a near-collision involving the airline’s Flight 227. But a spokeswoman for the other carrier involved confirmed that the planes were closer than federal guidelines.
The British Airways flight and a Midway Airlines flight from New York to Chicago came so close Saturday over Ohio that they appeared to crash on the radar screens at the Cleveland Air Route Control Center in Oberlin, Pat Forrey told the Plain Dealer in an interview published Thursday.
“Controllers here have never seen anything like this,” said Forrey, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. at the Federal Aviation Administration control center in Oberlin.
The incident occurred about 7 p.m. Saturday at an altitude of 35,000 feet just west of Cleveland, the FAA in Chicago said. The FAA confirmed that it is investigating but would not discuss further details of the incident.
Forrey said that the British Airways flight, carrying 193 people, had experienced radio trouble and that a controller at Oberlin had accidentally switched the Midway flight radio to the wrong frequency so that the pilot briefly lost radio contact.
“The next thing we heard was the Midway pilot saying he was descending to avoid a DC-10,” Forrey said. He said the co-pilot on Midway Flight 391, carrying 59 people, saw the other jet and alerted the pilot, who descended in time.
“They came within 300 feet vertically of one another,” Forrey said.
A British Airways spokesman, John Lampl, questioned the scenario Thursday.
“If a radio malfunctions, you switch to another frequency,” Lampl said. “There’s triple backup on radios. That (scenario) doesn’t happen.”