Tapes Suggest Confusion Before Midair

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The pilot of a Beaver floatplane that collided with a Cessna 150 near Renton, Wash., last August may have been confused by a tower controller's report of the Cessna's position as the two aircraft neared the Renton airport. According to an analysis done by the King County Journal, the tower controller was recorded as telling the Beaver pilot that the Cessna, which he was to follow for landing, was "ahead of you and to your right'' when the radar tapes indicate the Cessna was actually to the Beaver's left and about 400 feet lower. The Beaver descended on top of the Cessna while setting up for a landing. The Cessna crashed into an empty school and both occupants died. The Beaver was able to make a safe emergency landing. According to the Journal, the Beaver pilot may have thought another floatplane, already on downwind, was the Cessna the tower told him he was supposed to be following. The Beaver acknowledges seeing another aircraft on downwind but never calls it a Cessna, according to the Journal analysis. Renton has a contract tower run by Serco. Neither the Beaver pilot, Serco, nor the FAA would respond to questions posed by the Journal concerning the tapes, which were obtained under a freedom of information request. The NTSB final report on the accident hasn't been released yet and the Journal said it's not expected for several months.