Was JFK Incident A Near-Midair Or Not?

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The NTSB said on Tuesday it is investigating a near midair collision at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Saturday in which two airliners flew in close proximity to one another -- but the FAA says no such incident took place. The NTSB, citing "initial reports," said that at 8:36 p.m. local time on July 5, a Cayman Airways 737-300 and a Linea Aerea Nacional de Chile 767-300 "almost collided." The 737 was on approach to Runway 22L, then executed a missed approach and conflicted with the 767 departing Runway 13R. "Tower controllers intervened to attempt to resolve the conflict, assigning both aircraft diverging headings," the NTSB said. "The closest proximity of the two aircraft has not yet been determined." The National Air Traffic Controllers Association issued a news release on Monday saying that "the radar targets of both jets merged on top of each other and [controllers] estimated their closest proximity at 100 feet. ... Controllers at both JFK Tower and New York TRACON all used the word 'ugly' to describe the incident." FAA spokesman Jim Peters told The Associated Press, in a story published Tuesday, that radar data show that the aircraft came no closer than 300 feet vertically and a half-mile horizontally, and there was no potential for conflict. On Tuesday, NATCA spokesman Doug Church told AVweb, "We stand by our story: Planes were separated by 100 feet in altitude and there was NO discernible lateral separation on radar."

Church said he has been in contact with five controller eyewitnesses who all agreed "it was the ugliest incident they have ever seen." And he added that the FAA can set the record straight by releasing the radar tapes of the incident. "When will they do that?" he asked. The NTSB said it will issue a preliminary report on the incident later this week. Click here to see an airport map of JFK, and click here to listen to the ATC tape from the incident. At the time of the incident, the NTSB said, the weather was VFR with 6 miles visibility and haze. There were no reported injuries or damage to the aircraft.