FAA probing reported near-collision of 3 US Airways jets

11:29 AM, Aug 2, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - US Airways said late Wednesday that it is working with federal officials to investigate a newspaper report that three commuter jets narrowly averted a midair collision near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport outside the nation's capital.

The Washington Post is reporting that three US Airways jets carrying 192 passengers and crew members came within seconds of a midair collision on Tuesday afternoon. The newspaper cites federal officials with direct knowledge of the incident.

The newspaper reported that air traffic controllers cleared two outbound flights to head in the direction of an incoming plane. Controllers were reversing the path of planes coming into the airport in response to an approaching storm, but the paper reports that the information wasn't fully relayed.

The planes all reached their destinations safely, but the Post's article says, given the aircrafts' speeds at the time, a collision may have been avoided by as little as 12 seconds.

The incident comes less than a year and a half after a traffic controller in the FAA tower at Washington National admitted to falling asleep on the job, leaving two commercial jets to land without any assistance.

The Post reports that the FAA issued a statement saying it is investigating the matter and would address the communication lapse.

An FAA representative couldn't immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday night by The Associated Press.

US Airways 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." He had no other details.

An audio recording of the conversations between the US Airways pilots involved and the ground controllers, provided by LiveATC.net, does reveal several moments of confusion among the flight controllers on the ground.

After the incoming pilot is told to make a 180-degree turn away from the landing he had already been cleared for at National, he asks the controllers, "we were cleared at the river back there. What happened?"

"Standby, we're trying to figure this out, too. Standby," comes the response, before he is told to circle around for another landing attempt.

Speaking moments later to another pilot - who attempted to contact the ground control during the confusion to no avail - a flight controller is heard explaining, "we had an issue earlier, so that's why you weren't getting a response."

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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