The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is probing an incident in which air traffic controllers allegedly gave an international passenger flight the wrong directions and sent it flying towards a mountain range and another aircraft.
Bound for Taiwan, EVA Air flight EVA 015, carrying 353 people and operated with a B777, took off from Los Angeles International Airport on Friday.
The plane’s flight crew followed common practice and switched from the LAX control tower to the approach control operations in San Diego, according to a FAA spokesman quoted by the Los Angeles Times.
The air traffic controller handling the flight instructed the pilot to make a left turn to a 180-degree heading, whereas she meant to tell the pilot to make a right turn to a 180-degree heading.
Following the controller’s instructions, the pilot turned left and headed precisely the wrong way, towards the San Gabriel Mountains and towards an approaching Air Canada jet that had just taken off from LAX.
As soon as she realised her mistake, the controller took immediate action to keep the EVA flight out of harm’s way – safely separated from the mountains and from the approaching Air Canada flight.
You can hear the cockpit and control tower conversations and see the aircraft depicted graphically here:
At one point, the controller asks the pilot, “What are you doing? Turn southbound now.”
The flight cleared the peak of Mt Wilson (1740 metres) by “just hundreds of feet” according to publicly available flight data cited by the LA Times. Data shows the plane cleared Mt Wilson Observatory by between 500 and 800 feet (about 150 and 245 metres).
Written by Peter Needham