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Pilot Error, Air Traffic Controller Distraction Resulted in Plane Crash

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New York, NYA series of errors and a distracted air traffic controller led to a tragic plane crash in New York City that took the lives of nine people when a private plane and a tourist helicopter collided in August 2009. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the plane accident, said both pilots made errors and the air traffic controller was involved in a personal phone call.


According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), as reported by the Los Angeles Times on 9/14/10, neither of the pilots could see the other's aircraft until seconds before they collided. Neither pilot used on-board equipment that would have helped locate nearby aircraft.

Meanwhile, the air traffic controller, who was reportedly on a personal phone call while directing traffic, did not give pilots timely information and advisories required for air traffic in the area.

According to an NTSB statement, the air traffic controller's phone call "distracted him from his air traffic control duties, including the timely transfer of communications for the accident airplane to the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) tower and correcting the airplane pilot's incorrect read-back of the EWR tower frequency."

Furthermore, a front line manager was cited for not taking action when the air traffic controller was involved in an earlier nonpertinent telephone conversation and did not let staff know how to reach him while he was away from the tower.

The plane was carrying two passengers in addition to the pilot, while the helicopter carried the pilot and five tourists. There were no survivors in the collision. According to the Los Angeles Times, approximately 700 people have died in midair collisions in the past 25 years.

The NTSB also noted that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules about the vertical distance required between aircraft in the Hudson River airspace are inadequate and recommended changing the boundaries.

"This collision could have been prevented," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. "While traffic alerts go a long way in helping pilots "see and avoid" other aircraft, these technologies are not, in and of themselves, enough to keep us safe. Strong operating procedures, professionalism, and commitment to the task at hand – these are all essential to safety."

The FAA has reportedly taken action against the air traffic controller and other employees.

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