Controllers Ignored Alarms Before Fatal Collision

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A review of audiotapes and computer records from the Gillespie Tower and Southern California Terminal Radar Control Center shows controllers failed to warn the pilots of two Cessnas of a potential collision even though the alarms sounded and displayed visual warnings for 51 seconds before the planes collided over La Mesa, Calif. All three occupants of the two aircraft died when the Cessna 182 and a 172 collided in midair, erupted into fireballs and rained burning debris over a square mile last Feb. 8. NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker released a letter outlining safety concerns arising from the accident in July and the San Diego Union Tribune recently obtained copies of the audiotapes and computer records through a freedom of information request. In his recommendations, Rosenker urged the FAA to fix the tendency of equipment to give false alerts and to make sure controllers are actually responding to the alerts that do come in by warning pilots of potential danger. The NTSB found 11 crashes in which pilots did not get "safety alerts" even though the alarms were going off in the tower or center. Rosenker said in his letter that controllers said they tuned out the alarms because they went off so often with no justification. The same day of the crash, the FAA issued an order to controllers that they provide safety alerts to pilots when the equipment says they are too close to the ground or each other, but it's not known if the order came before or after the crash.