Friday, August 14, 2009

FAA: 2 Employees Investigated In Midair Collision

From by Joan Lowy:

WASHINGTON - Authorities have removed from duty an air traffic controller who they say was talking on the phone during last week's deadly midair collision over New York's Hudson River, along with a supervisor who was out of the building at the time.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that while there was no reason to believe thus far that the employees' actions contributed to the accident, which killed nine people, such "conduct is unacceptable." Air traffic controllers are expected to be alert at all times while on duty and are given regular breaks, sometimes hourly, for that reason.

The two employees, who were not identified by the FAA, were placed on administrative leave with pay. The FAA said it has begun disciplinary proceedings against the controller, who was handling the small plane that collided with a tour helicopter, and against the supervisor on duty at the time. Three members of a Pennsylvania family on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter were killed when the two stricken aircraft plunged into the river.

The FAA said the controller at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was involved in "apparently inappropriate conversations" on the telephone at the time of the accident. The agency said the supervisor was not in the building at the time as required.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the labor union representing controllers, said in a statement that it supports a full investigation of the allegations "before there is a rush to judgment."

The FAA's action came as an amateur video surfaced that captured the moment of impact between the two aircraft. The images, taken by an Italian man practicing with a new camera while on a boat tour, shows the helicopter flying overhead when suddenly a single-engine plane appears behind it, apparently climbing and turning. The plane clips the helicopter's rotor blades, and a wing shears off. Debris rains down, and the plane flips. Both aircraft plunge toward the water.

On the video, aired Thursday on "NBC Nightly News," one or more onlookers can be heard in the background saying, "Oh, my God!"

Teterboro Airport, located directly across the Hudson River from New York City near the George Washington Bridge, handles corporate and private aircraft.

It is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and handles nearly 200,000 flights a year.


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