One expert we talked to called this a 'double failure.' Even if the air traffic controllers' actions didn't contribute to the midair crash, it's pretty shocking to hear that when it happened, one controller was on the phone with his girlfriend and the other wasn't even in the building.
The small plane involved in Saturday's midair crash had taken off from Teterboro Airport. In the moments before it collided with a sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River, investigators say two air traffic controllers at Teterboro neglected their duties.
The two air traffic controllers have been suspended. In a statement, the FAA was quick to point out that their violations did not contribute to Saturday's crash.
"While we have no reason to believe at this time that these actions contributed to the accident, this kind of conduct is unacceptable and we have placed the employees on administrative leave and have begun disciplinary proceedings," the FAA said in a statement.
Both could be fired. Their names have not been released.
At the time of the midair collision, both pilots were flying in the VFR zone, where flights are not directed by air traffic control. In his last communication, the Teterboro controller had directed the plane's pilot to contact air traffic control at Newark.
Nine people were killed when a small Piper plane with three aboard and a Liberty Helicopters chopper carrying five Italian tourists collided and plummeted into the river.
National Transportation Safety Board and FAA investigators learned of the telephone conversation earlier this week while examining recordings of telephone calls on a landline phone in the tower that controllers use to communicate with other parts of the Teterboro Airport. The controller and supervisor were removed from duty immediately.
Air traffic controllers are expected to be alert at all times while on duty and typically are given about a 15-minute break roughly every two hours for that reason.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the labor union representing controllers, said in a statement that it supports a full investigation of the allegations "before there is a rush to judgment."
In another development related to the crash, the FAA is considering whether to require safety measures that are currently recommended -- things like restricting flight speed, turning lights on, and tuning into the same radio frequency as other pilots.
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