WASHINGTON — Investigators who examined tapes of tower communications concluded today that the pilot of a helicopter that forced a crowded Eastern Airlines jet to abort its takeoff had received clearance to cross the runway, federal officials said.
A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said a controller at National Airport in nearby Virginia had given the helicopter general takeoff clearance but had not specified a direction that would avoid crossing the main runway where the Boeing 727 had been cleared for takeoff.
The Eastern jet skidded to a stop about 130 feet from the Potomac River in the Tuesday evening incident.
Eastern's 5 p.m. shuttle flight from Washington to New York, with 175 passengers and a crew of seven, came to rest on ground that had been a river inlet before being filled in only last year as a runway safety extension.
One person sustained minor injuries, and neither aircraft was believed damaged.
NTSB spokesman Bill Bush said that investigators had been told by the controller's supervisors that she thought she had directed the helicopter to take a northwesterly departure route but that an examination of the tapes showed otherwise.