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Experts Tie Teterboro Crash To Human Errors And Night Sky

March 18, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal safety experts say air traffic control tower errors and a crowded and confused nighttime sky caused the 1986 New Jersey collision of a private plane and corporate jet that left six people dead.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled Tuesday that mistakes in the tower at nearby Teterboro, N.J., airport likely were to blame for the Nov. 10 crash between the Falcon 50 jet and a single-engine Piper Arrow over Fairview, N.J.

Air traffic controllers ″were not doing things according to Hoyle,″ said board Chairman Jim Burnett.

In a unanimous ruling on the accident’s probable cause, the four-member safety board cited the ″physiological limits″ of the two-man jet crew’s vision as preventing them from seeing the smaller plane in the evening sky as they prepared to land at Teterboro.

However, the board members stopped short of saying the jet crew’s performance added to their own fate.

Board members called on aviation officials to upgrade radar tracking at the busy Teterboro facility, and to tighten control procedures there and in towers nationwide.

The crash at 7:22 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 jet crew, and the pilot and two passengers of the Piper, all died.

Also killed was a resident of a Cliffside Park apartment building struck by the downed jet.

Specifically, the board 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, reported three times that the smaller plane was westbound, when it actually was headed east, board investigators found.

Board members said the controller, 29 at the time, has been transferred to Teterboro from a busier facility because he had made similar errors.

But Millan’s mistakes were just a link in a chain of mishaps that created a ″three-ring circus,″ Burnett said.

He noted that 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 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, investigators found, a computer printout announcing the flight was not automatically generated at the plane’s destination, Teterboro.

Teterboro controllers compounded the mishap by failing to write down notice of the incoming flight, after receiving a 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 eventually was 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 Piper, piloted by 26-year-old Marion J. Moss., was eastbound on a sightseeing flight toward the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. The plane had taken off from Essex County Aiprort, in West Caldwell, N.J., about 12 miles west of Teterboro.

Millan, handling six aircraft including the jet and the Piper, may have been overwhelmed, board members speculated.

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