Thursday, August 2, 2012

(ABC) Three US Airways jets, carrying a total of 192 passengers and crew members, were reportedly taking off or landing at Washington's Reagan National Airport when they came within 12 seconds of a mid-air collision.

The incident occurred Tuesday at about 2 p.m. when air traffic controllers put two departing commuter jets on a collision course with a third plane that was set to land, according to The Washington Post. All the flights reached their destination without mishap.

The FAA confirmed overnight the near-miss to ABC News, stating, "The FAA is investigating the incident and will take appropriate action to address the miscommunication."

US Airways released a statement, saying, "We are currently investigating and working with the FAA to determine what occurred. The safety of our customers and employees is always our top priority."

Neither the FAA nor US Airways would provide additional information.

With a storm approaching, air traffic controllers in Warrenton, Va., told the tower at Reagan National they were changing the direction in which planes were flying into and out of the airport to avoid shifting winds, according to the Post. Warrenton controllers communicated the plan to the tower at Reagan National.

"The tower agreed, but they didn't pass it on to all the people they needed to pass it on to," a federal official told the newspaper.

The official was familiar with the incident, but was not authorized to speak publicly.

With the information not passed off, two planes were launched directly into the path of another flight that was landing. Controllers turned the inbound flight south, just 12 seconds from impact with the other planes, the Post reported.

"Are you with me?" an air traffic control official at Reagan National was heard asking the pilot of the inbound flight.

"We were cleared at the river there, what happened?" the pilot asked.

"Stand by, we're trying to figure this out," the tower replied.

"We really don't have enough fuel here for this. We have to get on the ground pretty quick," the pilot said.

In 2011, an air traffic control person at Reagan National fell asleep on the job and failed to respond to pilots trying to land at the airport, according to The Washington Post.

"We will always have human error," ABC News aviation analyst John Nance said, "but the air traffic control doesn't have money to build a high-tech system to alert folks when errors are made."

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