POSTED: 4:18 a.m. HST, Aug 2, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 8:28 a.m. HST, Aug 2, 2012
WASHINGTON >> None of the three commuter jets that flew too close together near Washington was ever on course to collide head-on with the others, federal officials said today.
During a news conference, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood strongly disputed media reports characterizing the incident as a near-miss.
"At no point were the three aircraft on a head-to-head course. They were not on a collision course," said Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The incident happened Tuesday because of a miscommunication between a manager at Potomac Consolidated Terminal Radar Approach Control and two traffic management coordinators at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Huerta said. Officials are investigating exactly what happened. The exact nature of the miscommunication was not immediately known.
Traffic controllers had to redirect the planes because of bad weather developing south of the airport. Both LaHood and Huerta praised the work of air traffic controllers to quickly set the planes on another path once they learned they were too close together. Huerta said the planes were on different headings at different altitudes and thus never would have crashed.
When asked by a reporter, LaHood refused to discuss what may have happened if the planes had not been diverted by the air traffic controller.
The Washington Post reported the three planes were operated by US Airways and were carrying 192 passengers and crew members. It cited federal officials with direct knowledge of the incident.
Federal guidelines require that commercial jets remain separated by at least 1,000 vertical feet and 3.5 lateral miles. The agency said preliminary information indicated the landing plane, which departed from Portland, Maine, came within 500 vertical feet and 1.7 lateral miles of one departing plane and 600 vertical feet and 2.8 lateral miles of the second plane.
USAirways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said in an email that the airline is "currently investigating and working with the FAA to determine what occurred."