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Controller Error Faulted In Teterboro Crash

March 18, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal officials ruled Tuesday that a breakdown in air-traffic control was the primary cause of a 1985 mid-air collision over Fairview, N.J., killing six people.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed errors in the nearby Teterboro, N.J., airport control tower for the Nov. 10 crash between a Falcon 50 corporate jet and a single-engine private plane.

The board, in a unanimous ruling on the probable cause of the accident, also cited the ″physiological limits of human vision″ as preventing the jet crew, preparing to land at Teterboro, from seeing the smaller plane in the night sky.

As a result of their findings, board members called on aviation officials to upgrade radar tracking at the busy Teterboro facility, and tighten control procedures there and in towers nationwide.

The crash at 5:22 p.m. EST sent both planes plummeting to the ground in pieces that scattered in the neighboring towns of Fairview and Cliffside Park, N.J. The two-man jet crew, and the pilot and two passengers of the Piper died. Also killed was a resident of a Cliffside Park apartment building struck by the jet.

The safety board specifically faulted Teterboro controller Kenneth Millan, who gave ″erroneous and inadequate″ reports to the jet crew about other air traffic, including the Piper Archer which the jet eventually struck.

Millan, with just under three years as a controller, three times reported the smaller plane was westbound, when it was actually headed east, board investigators found.

But Millan’s mistakes were just a link in a chain of mishaps that created a ″three-ring circus,″ according to board Chairman Jim Burnett.

Burnett acknowledged the jet pilots, both veterans with thousands of hours in the air, had approached the airport too fast on their 9 1/2-minute hop from nearby Morristown, N.J., airport.

″They may have made judgment errors ... but they had plenty of help ... from a not-very-professional air-traffic control system,″ Burnett said.

The safety board found the errors began when the jet, owned by Nabisco Brands Corp., was cleared to take off some 20 minutes earlier than indicated by its original flight plan.

As a result, a computer printout announcing the flight was not automatically generated at the plane’s destination, Teterboro. Teterboro controllers compounded the situation by failing to write down notice of the incoming flight after a receiving call from their counterparts at Morristown.

The board found the system was further short-circuited when a coordinating controller went to the bathroom without properly briefing his backup. As a result, the board ruled, Millan - who was eventually assigned control of the jet - was startled to find it flying above his location.

Meanwhile, he had used proper discretion to allow the Piper to fly across the airport’s airspace. The plane had taken off from Essex County Airport in West Caldwell, N.J., about 12 miles west of Teterboro.

The board found Millan acted properly in turning over control of the jet’s situation to its crew. Controllers at Teterboro, where radar capability is limited, do not have the responsibilty to control the space between planes, board members said. Rather, Federal Aviation Admintration rules call for pilots to ″see and avoid″ other planes.

But, the board ruled, Millan - whose burden was created, in part, by poor supervision - misled the jet crew enough to make it impossible for them to place the Piper in the confusing night sky.

The jet took an evasive left turn, apparently thinking the Piper was landing, only to turn right back into the smaller plane’s path, the board found.

A cockpit voice recorder in the jet showed Capt. Gregory Miller saying, ″Hey watch out, this guy’s coming right at us,″ moments before the impact.

″Oh Alan ... Alan,″ Miller then said to first officer Alan Stitt, who was actually flying, according to recorder transcripts released by the board.

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