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Occurred During D.C. Controllers' Golf Outing : Near Miss at Airport Prompts Staffing Probe

October 25, 1985|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A near accident at Washington National Airport last month when several air traffic controllers were playing golf will be examined at a hearing on controller staffing problems, aides to Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) said today.

The National Airport incident on Sept. 24 has generated a furor on Capitol Hill in the wake of reports that 20 air traffic controllers were attending an annual golf outing at the time.

Their absence led to supervisors working as controllers, illustrating the lack of adequate personnel on the job, said Chris Donohue, an aide to Oberstar, who chairs the Public Works and Transportation Committee's investigations subcommittee. Oberstar has not set a date for the hearings, she said.

Spokesman Bob Buckhorn of the Federal Aviation Administration said that the National Airport tower had a normal staff of 17 controllers and two supervisors when an Eastern Airlines jetliner aborted takeoff to avoid a helicopter.

The golf outing, an annual event, had been planned well in advance to occur at a time when shifts overlapped, so there would be no shortage, Buckhorn said.

Reports of Callback Denied

He denied reports that some controllers had been called in early because of the outing, or that others had rushed back to the airport after the incident.

Syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowen, writing in today's Washington Post, reported that the error allowing the helicopter to move into the airliner's flight path occurred because supervisors were trying to do too many jobs at the time.

Rowen said officials at the FAA later tried to make one controller the scapegoat.

Buckhorn said that in any incident the controller involved is reassigned to administrative duties during the investigation, but that the individual involved in this case has been recertified and returned to work. He declined to name the controller involved.

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