CHICAGO (AP) — Federal transportation investigators released a preliminary report Monday about two near midair collisions at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that raises questions about air-traffic control at one of the world's busiest airports.
The report released by the National Transportation Safety Board doesn't draw conclusions or assess blame for the incidents, which involved landing and departing planes coming within several hundred feet of each other. But it highlights concerns about the configuration of a control tower and two intersecting runways.
A final report isn't expected for several months.
Several controllers interviewed after a near miss on August 8, 2011, mentioned an obstruction in the middle of the air-traffic control room that forced controllers to yell vital information across the room. Others complained about potential confusion caused by the two intersecting runways.
The other near miss, which occurred on May 16, 2011, involved a SkyWest Airlines plane en route from Michigan approaching one runway and an ExpressJet Airlines taking off on the intersecting runway for Buffalo, N.Y. According to the report, the ExpressJet captain and others interviewed blamed at least one air-traffic controller for either forgetting or overlooking that the SkyWest plane had been given the OK to land.
The ExpressJet captain said his plane began roaring down a runway when he heard a distressed air traffic controller say, "Uhh!" Seconds later, the captain saw the landing SkyWest plane heading straight for his and frantically told his co-pilot to "stay low."
After the danger passed and he regained his composure, the captain radioed the tower after "nearly getting killed" and screamed at the air-traffic controller, "What the (expletive) was that?" according to the NTSB report.
The near miss happened shortly after Vice President Joe Biden's plane, Air Force Two, had touched down at O'Hare for a visit to Chicago. That plane wasn't directly involved, but others interviewed said the controller may have been distracted by the special procedures surrounding the arrival of Biden's plane, which include the presence of a helicopter.
The Aug. 8, 2011, incident was similar in that it involved a Chautauqua Airlines flight coming in from La Crosse, Wis., and a Trans State Airlines flight taking off for Moline, in western Illinois. Again, the landing plane nearly collided with a plane as it tried to take off.