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FAA Probes Marine Jets

February 27, 1999

CHANTILLY, Va. (AP) _ Two Marine Corps jets strayed from their flight pattern and passed within nearly a mile of a commuter plane approaching Dulles International Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA, which is investigating Thursday’s incident, said it happened 35 miles south of Dulles when the F/A-18 Hornet fighters out of Andrews Air Force Base left their assigned holding pattern and passed close to United Express Flight 7618, a turboprop with 16 passengers and three crew members on board.

FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said Friday a preliminary review found error by the military pilots. They had been waiting for approval from air traffic controllers to begin maneuvers over Quantico Marine Corps Base.

Ms. Salac said the FAA was concerned that the jets violated regulations that require three miles of separation from commuter planes. They must also be separated by 1,000 feet in altitude.

Both the Marine Corps and Atlantic Coast Airlines, which operates United Express, reported the fighters had been on course to pass behind the plane.

But Paul Rinaldi, president of the Air Traffic Control Association at Dulles, said the jets were 20 seconds away from striking the plane when a controller gave an urgent order for the fighters to change altitude.

``It was just the quick thinking of the controllers in the Dulles tower radar room that averted this from becoming something catastrophic,″ he said.

Atlantic Coast spokesman Rick DeLisi said the commuter plane’s pilot was unaware of the incident until he was informed of it by air traffic controllers at Dulles.

``No passenger ever knew there was anything happening, and, really, nothing happened,″ DeLisi said. ``Our plane was never asked to do anything except maintain its pattern.″

A month ago, a military transport plane out of Andrews barely missed colliding over Leesburg with a Mesa Airlines commuter plane bound from Long Island, N.Y., to Dulles. An investigation is pending.

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