Two Commercial Jets Nearly Collide Flying at Altitudes Assigned by Air Traffic Controllers

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says two commercial jets, a United Airlines and a US Airways flight, nearly collided on April 25 near Hawaii. A serious aviation accident was avoided when onboard warning systems alerted the pilots that they were too close to one another. Though the cause of the incident is still under investigation, officials are looking into why air traffic controllers assigned both planes the same altitude.

On April 25, the pilots of the eastbound United Airlines flight received an alert from the plane’s Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, indicating the presence of the westbound US Airways flight. A government official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the planes were roughly eight miles away from each other when the United plane began to descend rapidly. The official indicated that 12 seconds after the United Flight began to descend, the planes were 5.3 miles away from each other laterally and only 800 feet separated them vertically.

The incident gained public attention after a passenger on one of the planes, Kevin Townsend, wrote a blog titled: “Two Weeks Ago, I Almost Died in the Deadliest Plane Crash Ever.” Townsend was a passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 1205, which departed from Kona International Airport bound for Los Angeles. The plane was forced to descend rapidly in order to avoid a collision with the US Airways flight.

“I felt my body float upwards and strain against my seatbelt,” said Townsend in his blog. “Passengers around me screamed. There was a loud crash in the back – a coffeepot clattering to the floor and tumbling down the aisle. Our tray tables began rattling in unison as the 757 strained through the kind of maneuver meant more for a fighter jet.”

The FAA and the NTSB sent officials to Hawaii to investigate the incident. Townsend believes that his blog pushed the FAA to investigate. “I don’t think there’s some epidemic of near accidents that are occurring, but it was a jarring experience dodging another plane,” said Townsend. According to CNN, neither airline will say just how many passengers were aboard the planes, but Townsend estimates that a total of 590 people were aboard both planes. If the planes would have collided, it likely would have been the deadliest aviation accident in history, surpassing a 1977 incident in which two Boeing 747s collided, leaving 583 people dead.


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