FAA: Air traffic controller back at work

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Bob Beck is back in the Gulfport Air Traffic Control Tower.

The NTSB says Beck is the air traffic controller who nearly caused a mid-air collision over Gulfport.  But, after being suspended for that incident, Beck went back to work.

FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen sent out this statement about Beck's employment:  "The FAA is committed to running the safest air transportation system in the world.  The FAA made management changes at Gulfport following the incident in June and suspended and decertified the controller involved. The controller was retrained and has been recertified."

The incident in question took place on June 19, 2011.

An NTSB incident docket describes how a small private plane and a 55 passenger regional jet heading to Houston got permission to take off within 16 seconds of each other.

According to the NTSB findings, the Cessna 172 was on runway 18 and about to take off, when the air traffic controller told the 55 passenger regional jet it could roll down runway 14.

A student pilot was at the controls of the Cessna.  His instructor was Theodore T. Mullen.  This is part of the statement Mullen gave the NTSB about the near mid-air collision.  "We did a normal takeoff with the student flying and climbed at a normal rate for that aircraft along the runway center line.

"Just as we were crossing overhead of runway 14/32, we saw the jet pass beneath us from right to left. I would estimate that the jet was approximately 200 feet below us when it passed beneath us. I heard the pilot of the jet ask ATC "Was that 172 on a go-around?". There was no reply to that call and the pilot made the same call again. I heard the controller reply with something like 'um, yea'. "

So, how did two planes get take off clearance just 16 seconds apart?  According to the NTSB, Beck told investigators, "that from previous experience, he anticipated that the Cessna departing runway 18 would take 3 to 5 minutes to get airborne and the ERJ145 would depart well in advance of the Cessna."

However, within seconds, the two aircraft were airborne.  And they reportedly passed in front of each other just 300 feet above the airfield.

The pilot of the passenger plane was Richard Remington.  "As we climbed through around 200 ft I noticed movement at our 8 o'clock.  I saw a Cessna about 100 ft higher than us and maneuvering left. At no time was the Cessna an issue for us to use any kind of evasive maneuvers," Remington told the NTSB.  "I said to my F/O 'wow that was close'."

The NTSB report says, "The Gulfport control tower local controller cleared two aircraft for takeoff from runways with intersecting departure flight paths without ensuring the first aircraft had passed the flight path intersection prior to clearing the second aircraft for takeoff."

According to the NTSB, "The investigation revealed a number of deficiencies within the ATC facility that contributed to this incident."

You can read the NTSB incident report by clicking here.

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