Court Finds ATC At Fault For Fatal Helicopter Crash

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A federal judge in California said this week that air traffic controllers at the Torrance Municipal Airport made a critical mistake in November 2003, resulting in the collision of two helicopters in flight. The NTSB report, issued last May, found the surviving pilot, a student flying an R22 solo, had caused the crash, by failing to comply with an ATC clearance. Two men in a Robinson R44 helicopter on a training flight died when it crashed to the runway and exploded. The R22 pilot survived with serious injuries. The judge said the two controllers involved "failed to issue clear and concise instructions" to the pilots and acted "negligently and carelessly," the L.A. Times reported on Wednesday. The two pilots were maneuvering in the traffic pattern above parallel runways and were in positions where neither pilot could see the other when ATC reportedly told one of the pilots to turn, putting the two aircraft on a collision course, the Times said. The NTSB final report says the R22 pilot crossed runway 29R, where the controller had directed him to land, and was heading toward 29L when the collision occurred.

The case was brought to court by families of the three victims, who filed a civil lawsuit against the FAA. Testimony was heard for 11 days. An FAA spokesman declined to comment on the case, The Associated Press reported. "The tower should have been staffed with four controllers, but instead had just three at the time of this crash, as the ruling affirmed," Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told AVweb on Wednesday. "Like the Comair crash in Lexington, when a facility is understaffed, it is unsafe and tragedy can result."