NEW YORK (PIX11) – In response to a PIX 11 News investigation into air-traffic controllers returning to the job after contributing to deadly crashes, a U.S. congressman has fired off a letter to the head of the FAA seeking answers.
PIX 11 News has exclusively received a copy of the letter U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
“I write to you today to express my serious concerns about a recent report by PIX 11 News,” Maloney writes. The congressman, who is a member of the House Aviation subcommittee, then adds: “Their investigation into air traffic controllers has uncovered some disturbing facts.”
Maloney is seeking answers to the following questions:
• “What is the procedure for a FAA investigation following an incident or an accident? What corrective actions are taken and how are they recorded?”
• “How many employees’ actions have been considered contributing factors in accident reports?”
• “What specific accountability regulations exist for employees involved in a serious or deadly accident? How are these regulations enforced?”
• “What determines whether an air traffic controller is temporarily or permanently removed from their air traffic control duties?
• “What types of error have been considered the result of “gross negligence” in incidents or accidents involving air traffic controllers?
• “What transparency measures exist when the FAA investigates an accident?
PIX11 News raised many of these questions to the FAA during its investigation, only to receive no answers. After PIX 11 News initial set of reports. the agency provided a statement that PIX 11 News has since posted.
Maloney in his letter acknowledges the “tireless efforts of the thousands of men and women working as air traffic controllers who work diligently to ensure our safety,” only to finish by addressing Huerta directly: “I look forward to your response.”
The letter was copied to Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Story and video: http://pix11.com
Fury as air traffic controller in 2009 crash returns to work
Hudson Collision Errors
The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
Updated April 29, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET
Repeated safety violations by air-traffic controllers led to the fatal midair collision between a sightseeing helicopter and a small private plane over the Hudson River in August, according to documents released Wednesday by federal investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board information paints the most detailed picture yet of how a series of lapses by a number of controllers–including distractions caused by personal business–preceded the high-profile crash that killed nine people.
The victims included five Italian tourists celebrating the 25th wedding anniversary of one of the passengers, as well as a Pennsylvania businessman and two others who died aboard the single-engine Piper aircraft. Both craft plummeted into the river near the West 30th Street helipad in Manhattan, from which the chopper had taken off just earlier. Joggers and pedestrians watched and filmed the horrific scene.
The board's data reinforce earlier indications that a distracted controller, engaged in a personal phone call while on duty and juggling various tasks, failed to keep proper track of the small, propeller-powered plane. The controller, Carlyle Turner, later told investigator he didn't see or hear radar-system warnings about an impending collision, the documents indicate.
According to a transcript released Wednesday, Mr. Turner was on a personal call for about 2 1/2 minutes. Five seconds before impact, he hung up by telling the female friend on the call: "Let me straighten … stuff out."
Disciplinary action is pending against Mr. Turner, according to people familiar with the details. An FAA spokeswoman said he remains on paid administrative leave, but declined to elaborate. A spokesman for the union representing controllers declined to comment, and said Mr. Turner wasn't available for comment.
In addition to shedding more light on the actions of controllers, the latest information highlights apparent slipups by both pilots, as well as other factors that contributed to the tragedy.
In analyzing the sequence of events, investigators are raising new questions about why Brian Jones, a controller based at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport, told the safety board that he also failed to hear or see the same collision warnings.
According to investigators, Mr. Jones wasn't wearing glasses at work that day, as required by his medical certificate. Mr. Jones said that at first he thought an aircraft, by itself, had crashed into the river. When he realized a midair collision had occurred, according to a summary of his interview with investigators, "it hit him like a ton of bricks and he was pretty much in shock at that point."
The union also declined to make him available for comment.
In addition, Investigators disclosed that the experienced pilot of the sightseeing helicopter failed to follow the normal flight path—he climbed above 1,000 feet—after taking off from a heliport just moments before the accident. The collision occurred at an altitude of 1,100 feet, with neither pilot issuing any kind of emergency warning or transmission.
In the wake of the crash, amid pressure from federal lawmakers and local politicians, the Federal Aviation Administration revised flight paths and rules for choppers and planes operating under visual flight rules along the busy Hudson River corridor. New Jersey's Teteboro Airport is used by numerous corporate jets ferrying executives in an out of the New York area.
The latest timeline indicates that Mr. Turner failed to follow proper procedures from the time Steven Altman of Ambler, Pa,, the pilot of the private plane, requested instructions to take off from Teterboro shortly before noon on August 8. The pilot, according to the safety board's information, apparently wasn't familiar with airways over the Hudson and requested an unusual routing.
Initially, Mr. Turner, the Teterboro controller, failed to properly coordinate with other controllers at nearby Newark airport, according to one of the safety board's report. The Newark controller later told investigators he didn't notice any collision warnings.
Meanwhile, an air-traffic control supervisor on duty at Teterboro had stepped out, contrary to normal procedures, to run a personal errand and therefore wasn't available to keep an eye on preparations, according to investigators.
The new safety board documents indicate that the plane's pilot failed to switch radio frequencies as requested, so controllers at Teterboro and Newark weren't able to reach him and issue instructions that may have averted the crash. The Teterboro controller missed the pilot's incorrect acknowledgment of the new radio frequency, according to safety board investigators, because he was on a personal phone call while simultaneously monitoring radio transmissions from the plane's pilot and a Newark airport controller. "He's lost in the (radio spectrum), try him again," Mr. Turner told a fellow controller about 30 seconds before the collision.
Once it was clear that an accident had occurred, controllers also failed to properly follow emergency procedures to notify other agencies, according to investigators.
Next month, the safety board is expected to use the midair collision as one of its case studies at an unusual public forum on aviation safety scheduled for Washington. The three-day event will feature discussion about ways to enhance professionalism and concentration on the job by both pilots and controllers.
The safety board also is expected to look at two instances when school-age children visited the controller tower at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and were allowed by supervisors and their father, an experienced controller, to briefly give instructions to pilots. The May sessions also will focus on various airline pilots distracted by cell phones, personal laptops or nonpertinent conversations while seated behind the controls.
11:48:46 a.m., the Teterboro controller contacts a helicopter in the area to report that a plane is taking off and "will be turning to the southeast, join the river, climbing to 1,100 (feet)."
The controller asks the Piper, tail number N71MC, to report its altitude.
11:50:05 a.m., Piper pilot: "Climbing out of four hundred."
Teterboro controller: "Traffic 11 o'clock and two miles, northwest bound one thousand (feet), a helicopter."
Piper pilot: "Seven one mike charlie, lookin'."
At that point, the helicopter pilot reports the Piper is in sight, and the Teterboro controller tells the Piper, "helicopter has you in sight."
Piper pilot: "Thank you, sir."
11:50:41 a.m., the Teterboro controller gets on the phone with a woman from the airport's operations center. "Do we have plenty of gas for the grill?" he asks.
Controller: "I said, we got plenty of gas in the grill?"
Operations: "(unintelligible) it kinda sucks that we can't, we won't be able to do it today."
Controller: "(unintelligible) fire up the cat," a reference to a dead cat found earlier at the airport.
Operations: "Ooh, disgusting. Augh, that thing was disgusting."
Controller: "Chinese people do it, so why can't we?"
Operations: "Augh, stop it."
11:51:17 a.m. Controller, to the Piper pilot: "One mike charlie, start a left turn to join the Hudson River."
Piper pilot: "One mike charlie."
Eurocopter AS 350BA, Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tours, N401LH and Piper PA-32R-300, LCA Partnership, N71MC: Accident occurred August 08, 2009 in Hoboken, New Jersey
NTSB Identification: ERA09MA447A
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, August 08, 2009 in Hoboken, NJ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/25/2010
Aircraft: PIPER PA-32R-300, registration: N71MC
Injuries: 9 Fatal.
NTSB Identification: ERA09MA447B
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Saturday, August 08, 2009 in Hoboken, NJ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/25/2010
Aircraft: EUROCOPTER AS 350 BA, registration: N401LH
Injuries: 9 Fatal.
NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The Safety Board’s full report is available at http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2010/AAR1005.htm
The Aircraft Accident Report number is NTSB/AAR-10/05.
On August 8, 2009, at 1153:14 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-300 airplane, N71MC, and a Eurocopter AS350BA helicopter, N401LH, operated by Liberty Helicopters, collided over the Hudson River near Hoboken, New Jersey. The pilot and two passengers aboard the airplane and the pilot and five passengers aboard the helicopter were killed, and both aircraft received substantial damage from the impact. The airplane flight was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91, and the helicopter flight was operating under the provisions of 14 CFR Parts 135 and 136. No flight plans were filed or were required for either flight, and visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
(1) the inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid concept, which made it difficult for the airplane pilot to see the helicopter until the final seconds before the collision, and (2) the Teterboro Airport local controller’s nonpertinent telephone conversation, which distracted him from his air traffic control (ATC) duties, including correcting the airplane pilot’s read back of the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) tower frequency and the timely transfer of communications for the accident airplane to the EWR tower. Contributing to this accident were (1) both pilots’ ineffective use of available information from their aircraft’s electronic traffic advisory system to maintain awareness of nearby aircraft, (2) inadequate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) procedures for transfer of communications among ATC facilities near the Hudson River Class B exclusion area; and (3) FAA regulations that did not provide adequate vertical separation for aircraft operating in the Hudson River Class B exclusion area.