Two F-16s pursuing jetliner were given incomplete data Navy controller's failure allegedly led to near miss


WASHINGTON -- Civilian investigators said yesterday that they believed that a military air traffic controller had failed to provide enough information about the identity, route and location of two civilian aircraft to the pilots of two F-16s, setting the stage for an encounter Wednesday in which one or both fighter planes flew too close to a passenger airliner.

The investigators also said the incident, which occurred off New Jersey, made it clear that anti-collision equipment that is now standard on civilian airliners has rendered risky long-standing military procedures on visually identifying intruding aircraft.

"We know what happened, basically," said one investigator, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

The incident occurred when a Nations Air 727 was directed through restricted airspace by civilian controllers.

When a Navy controller in Virginia Beach, Va., sought to clear the zone for military use, the civilian controller told the Navy controller about two planes passing through, the 727 and a United Parcel Service DC-8, including their locations and call signs.

But the investigators believe the military controller did not relay the details to the two F-16 pilots, who were already in the restricted airspace.

At least one of the F-16s approached behind the 727, both planes in a cloud bank, to try to identify it visually, a standard military procedure for dealing with intruders. But the airliner had a traffic alert and collision avoidance system, known as T-CAS, which sounded an alarm in the cockpit, and the pilots took "by the book" evasive action.

Pub Date: 2/10/97

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