737 Crew Got Close To Cirrus: NTSB

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The NTSB says a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 came within 100 feet and a tenth of a mile from a NORDO Cirrus SR22 over central Florida March 27 when the crew was asked by air traffic controllers to check on the condition of the Cirrus's occupants. Initial reports said the planes came within 1.2 miles of one another in the incident, which is one of a number of controller-related issues dominating the FAA's public agenda these days. In a preliminary report issued Friday, the NTSB says a fair amount of effort went into the reconnaissance mission.

According to the NTSB, the effort was led by a front-line manager at the Central Florida TRACON, which had been monitoring the silent Cirrus for about an hour. The Cirrus was headed to Kissimmee and eventually landed there as planned. The Southwest flight was about 10 miles from the Cirrus when the TRACON asked the Southwest crew to go and have a look. The crew "obliged" and was vectored to the Cirrus until they reported visual and TCAS contact. The TRACON set up a separate radar monitor and discrete frequency for the operation. After the crew reported the Cirrus in sight, the controller told them to "resume own navigation, get as close as safely possible and report any abnormalities." The NTSB said the airliner pilot flying "maneuvered on his own along side" the Cirrus. The Southwest crew has been suspended pending the investigation but there's no word on the fate of the manager and any other controllers involved. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week said the controller involved had been fired, but he was mistaken. A controller in Miami and one in Knoxville were fired last week for sleeping on the job.