Controller apparently sleeps in DC as jets approach

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 24, 2011 6:15 PM
Controller apparently sleeps in DC as jets approach

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An air traffic controller told U.S. investigators on Thursday he had fallen asleep on the job, leaving two jetliners to land in Washington without any airport guidance.

"As a former airline pilot, I am personally outraged that this controller did not meet his responsibility to help land these two airplanes," Randy Babbitt, the Federal Aviation Administration administrator, said in a statement.

Babbitt, who suspended the unidentified 20-year veteran, is reviewing the incident, which occurred early Wednesday, along with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The two flights -- one operated by United Airlines and the other by American Airlines -- landed without incident at Ronald Reagan National Airport early Wednesday morning.

Flight crews could not raise the airport tower on the radio for runway and landing instructions but were in contact with controllers at another nearby FAA facility that gave them other information.

"Fortunately, at no point was either plane out of radar contact and our back-up system kicked in to ensure the safe landing of both airplanes," Babbitt said.

Still, the incident at an airport in the shadow of the Pentagon and across the Potomac River from the White House angered official Washington, which is sensitive to any lapse in aviation operations since the September 11, 2001, hijack attacks.

The controller, a supervisor, told NTSB investigators who interviewed him he fell asleep for a period of time on duty, the board said in a preliminary report on the incident.

The controller, according to the NTSB, said he had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift and was the lone person in the tower at the time of the incident.

(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Todd Eastham)

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