3 US Airways commuter jets were involved in a near-collision incident at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Tuesday afternoon.
The incident occurred at about 2:00 PM EDT when confused air traffic controllers launched 2 planes out of Reagan directly in the path of another that was on final to land.
‘[Air traffic that was] queued up to turn above Mount Vernon, fly north over the Potomac River and land on National’s main runway. But an approaching storm caused a significant wind shift, and the air traffic control center in Warrenton wanted to reverse the flow of planes into the airport, turning them north of Rosslyn and routing them south along the river to land from the opposite direction.
The Warrenton controllers communicated the plan to the controller tower at National.
“The tower agreed, but they didn’t pass it on to all the people they needed to pass it on to,” said a federal official familiar with the incident who was not authorized to speak publicly.
As a result, an incoming flight that had been cleared to land was flying head-on at two planes that had just taken off. 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.’
Controllers were able to reroute the incoming aircraft in the last seconds but it made for some tense and confusing moments for all involved:
“Are you with me?” the tower controller asked the inbound pilot.
“We were cleared [for landing] at the river there,” the pilot said after breaking off the approach northwest of the airport. “What happened?”
After a pause, the controller said, “Stand by, we’re trying to figure this out.”
There were 192 passengers on the three planes. No one was injured.
The FAA has launched a full investigation in to the incident as to the miscommunication.
The specific aircraft types and flight numbers have not been released yet.