‘See and Be Seen’ Rule Stymies Study of Collisions Monday, Jan 17 2011 

Transcribed from the Altus Times-Democrat, Altus, OK, June 7, 1971, p. 2:

‘See and Be Seen’ Rule Stymies Study of Collisions

By JAMES R. POLK
Associated Press Writer

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government efforts to end deadly midair collisions have become caught in a fight between two safety agencies over an old flying rule left over from the Lindbergh days–the rule of “see and be seen.”

In a jet age with airliners flying 600 miles an hour, a safety board is questioning whether a pilot’s eye is fast enough to resly upon to see and avoid collisions.

The latest disaster that killed 49 in a crash between an Air West jet and a Marine Corps fighter plane Sunday near Los Angeles met all the classic conditions:

Clear, sunny skies. A crowded airliner flying under radar rules, only a few minutes away from its airport. Another plane zipping along by visual rules–what the radar people call “unknown traffic.” Failure to spot it soon enough. Death.

The tragedy added to an already grim list of numbers:

— Midair collisions have resulted in nearly two-thirds of all deaths, 240 out of 396, in U.S. jetliner crashes over the past four years.

— Almost once a day, somewhere in the nation, another jetliner has a close brush with a private plane in what the government labels a “near-miss.” The study containing these statistics cited Los Angeles as the most dangerous area, New York second.

— In the next 10 years, another government study predicts, 528 persons will die in airline disasters in midair if today’s odds aren’t reduced.

The Los Angeles crash ended nearly two years for the nation’s major airlines without a fatality on a regular jet flight, a safety stretch without preceden [sic] in modern aviation history.

It was the last disaster, an 83-death collision between an Allegheny jet and a student pilot’s plane near Indianapolis, Ind., in the fall of 1969, that touched off both an intense study of midair crashes and the safety quarrel.

The dispute involves the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent agency which investigates accidents, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the agency that writes the safety rules and controls the nation’s air traffic.

The NTSB blamed the Indianapolis disaster on what it called gaps in the FAA’s control of air traffic. It said the old “see and be seen” rule, in the NTSB’s words, “totally unacceptable” today in airport areas where jetliners are mixed with private planes flying visually.

The FAA issued a 1-page reply saying the pilots of the two planes still had the responsibility to see and avoid each other.

But the NTSB repeated its arguments in March against mixing the two types of air traffic near airports in a bulky study of the midair collisions that contained the ominous 10-year death prediction.

The strained gulf between the NTSB and the FAA has been growing recently. The NTSB has been publicly critical of the FAA in a number of its reports.

Privately, FAA officials from the agency’s top man on down, have been heard to accuse the NTSB of both headline-grabbing and power-grabbing.

The safety board is sending its team of experts to Los Angeles to probe the latest crash. As usual, the FAA is sending its own men along as observers.

The collision over the stark San Gabriel Mountains came 10 minutes after the Air West DC9 jet had taken off from Los Angeles for Salt Lake City. As all jetliners do, it was flying a specified route under radar control even though skies were clear.

The FAA said the Marine F4 Phantom jet was flying by visual rules, which mean it had not filed a route plan with radar air-traffic controllers. The FAA said radar watchers saw the two planes on their screens just before the crash–apparently not in time to warn them.

The crash fit what the NTSB has described as the usual pattern — clear weather with good visibility, one plane either climbing or landing, a second plane using visual rules while within range of a major airport.

Four of the last eight jetliner disasters have happened largely this way. The Indianapolis jet was landing. A Piedmont jet was taking off in North Carolina when a collision killed 82 in 1967. Another jet was landing in Ohio when a midair crash took 26 lives the same year.

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Flight Rules That Led to Crash Criticized By Federal Investigator Monday, Jan 17 2011 

Transcribed from The Lodi News-Sentinel, Lodi, California, June 9, 1971, p. 1:

Flight Rules That Led to Crash Criticized By Federal Investigator

 

DUARTE, Calif. (UPI) — Criticism of “see and be seen” flying rules was voiced Tuesday in the wake of a weekend inflight collision between two planes that killed 50 persons.

A supersonic Marine F4 jet, flying through a crowded commercial air corridor under visual flight rules, collided Sunday at 12,000 feet with an Air West DC9 being controlled from a ground radar center.

Oscar M. Laurel, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board which was investigating the cause of the crash, said that now “may be a good time to take another look” at rules permitting visual flight operations near crowded metropolitan areas.

The Air West plane had taken off from Los Angeles International Airport 10 minutes before the collision. Both planes plummeted to earth in a rugged mountain area 40 miles from Los Angeles.

The wreckage was strewn over so wide a region that by Tuesday only slightly more than half the bodies had been located by helicopter crews.

In Washington, the National Association of Government Employes [sic], which represents some air route traffic controllers, urged the government to finance additional equipment to provide radar separation between planes on instrument flights and those flying under visual rules.

Navy Jet, Airliner Collide, 49 Killed Sunday, Jan 16 2011 

Transcribed from Ludington Daily News, Ludington, MI, June 7, 1971, p. 6A:

Navy Jet, Airliner Collide, 49 Killed

 

AZUZSA, Calif. (UPI)–An Air West DC9 jetliner collided Sunday with a Navy fighter plane 12,000 feet over Mt. Bliss, killing 49 persons. There apparently was just one survivor.

The two planes plowed into the rugged mountain in the Angeles National Forest, spewing wreckage a mile over the almost inaccessible terrain.

The known survivor was a Marine first lieutenant who parachuted to safety seconds after the collision. The pilot of his Navy Phantom F-4B apparently was killed.

Sheriff’s deputies quoted witnesses as saying the military craft apparently ripped into the side of the DC9, opening a gaping hole. Witnesses said articles apparently streamed from the big jet as it plunged toward the mountainside.

Deputies said pieces of paper flew out the hole in the side of the jetliner. Several were recovered and officers said they were marked with Sunday’s date and the name Air West.

Witnesses said other objects, possibly luggage, fell out of the hole but none was recovered.

County Fire Division Chief Dean Russell, who flew over the wreckage several times, was asked by newsmen if there were any other survivors.

“If there are, it will be the greatest miracle I’ve ever seen,” he replied.

“There was no room for it (the DC9) to skid, it just went straight in. WHen it hit the ground it broke all to hell,” a sheriff’s spokesman said.

There were 43 passengers and a crew of five aboard the DC9, which split in two major pieces in a wooded area about 20 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Sheriff’s deputies flown to the crash area said the bodies of nine persons, all apparently thrown clear on impact, were found beside the tail section of the jetliner.

Because of heavy fog, authorities said no attempt would be made until daybreak to remove the bodies and look for others in the wreckage.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the jetliner was Flight 706 from Los Angeles International Airport to Salt Lake City and had taken off minutes before the collision. The Phantom fighter was out of El Toro Marine Air Station near Santa Ana, Calif.

The survivor, Marine 1st Lt. Christopher E. Schiess, 24, of Salem, Ore., who was serving as radar interceptor aboard the Navy plane, declined to talk to sheriff’s investigators.

Survivor says ‘airliner hit us’ Monday, Jan 10 2011 

Transcribed from Eugene Register-Guard, Eugene, OR, June 8, 1971, p. 4A:

Survivor says ‘airliner hit us’

 

The sole survivor of an aerial collision that killed 50 persons said Monday that if he’d had the presence of mind he might have saved the pilot of his jet fighter plane.

Marine 1st Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, was prevented from discussing at a news conference details of the collision Sunday between the F-4 Phantom jet and a Salt Lake City-bound airliner with 49 aboard, but he did say:

“After impact–the airliner hit us–we tumbled violently four or five times. . . . If I had enough presence of mind I could have reached up and got that mechanism which would have ejected the pilot, but I thought he was already out.”

Schiess, a slender, blue-eyed radar intercept officer from Salem, Ore., said that as he parachuted he could see wreckage of the two planes plummeting earthward. He reached ground in 10 or 15 minutes and was found in a populated area, almost at once.

Schiess answered only a few questions at the news conference at El Toro, Marine Corps Air Station, his home base. His commanding officer and the base legal officer, both advised him to remain silent to most queries, as he will be a witness before a National Transportation Safety Board Inquiry into [the] cause of the collision.

The Marine Corps plans its own investigation, too.

The twin-engine Air West jet, carrying 44 passengers and a crew of five, exploded and burned in a dive from 12,000 feet after the collision.

The wreckage, at the bottom of a 2,000-foot-deep gorge, yielded the bodies of 22 persons Monday, three of them children.

The body of the F4 pilot, whose name was not revealed, was found in the fighter plane crashed a mile away.

The bodies are being taken by helicopter to a temporary morgue on a baseball field in the town of Duarte, file miles away. The crash site is in a barely accessible part of the jagged San Gabriel Mountains about 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

The DC9 was 18 minutes out of Los Angeles International Airport at the time of the collision with the F4 which was on a flight from Fallon Navy Air Station in Nevada to its home base at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the DC9 was being tracked on radar by ground air controllers but the F4 did not appear on radar screens.

He said the fighter was using “visual rules,” the “see and be seen” method, which meant it did not have to and had not filed an isntrument flight rules route with air controllers.

It was not unusual for the F4 not to appear on radar screens, he said, because of the variables in picking up an aircraft on radar. THese, he said, are the plane’s motion, altitude, speed, how the radar is adjusted and ground clutter such as mountains.

Airliner Hit Marine Jet, Survivor Says Saturday, Jul 17 2010 

Transcribed from The Blade, Toledo, OH, June 8, 1971, p. 2:

Airliner Hit Marine Jet, Survivor Says

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The radar intercept officer who is the sole survivor of a collision between two planes that killed 50 persons says the commercial airliner hit the military craft he was aboard.

“After impact — the airliner hit us — we tumbled violently four or five times,” 1st Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, of Salem, Ore., told a news conference Monday. He did not elaborate.

Lieutenant Schiess parachuted from the marine F-4 Phantom jet Sunday night after the collision with a Hughes Air West DC-9 jet.

The twin-engine Air West jet, carrying 44 passengers and a crew of 5, exploded and burned in a dive from 12,000 feet after the collision.

The wreckage, at the bottom of a 2,000-foot-deep gorge, yielded the bodies of 22 persons Monday, 3 of them children.

The body of the F-4 pilot, whose name was not revealed, was found in the fighter plane crashed a mile away.

The crash site is in a barely accessible part of the jagged San Gabriel Mountains about 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

The DC-9 was 18 minutes out of Los Angeles International Airport at the time of the collision with the F-4 which was on a flight from Fallon Navy Air Station in Nevada to its home base at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Calif.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said that the DC-9 was being tracked on radar by ground air controllers but the F-4 did not appear on radar screens.

He said that the fighter was using “visual rules,” the “see and be seen” method, which meant it did not have to file an instrument-flight-rules route with air controllers.

It was not unusual for the F-4 not to appear on radar screens, he said, because of the variables in picking up an aircraft on radar. These, he said, are the plane’s motion, altitude, speed, how the radar is adjusted, and ground clutter such as mountains.

Investigators from the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board, marine corps, Hughes Air West, and the Airline Pilots Association went to the crash site by helicopter Monday. None would say whether they had any indication what caused the crash, which occurred in hazy, late afternoon sunshine.

Crash Stirs Rule Probe Sunday, Jun 27 2010 

Transcribed from The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT, June 9, 1971, p. 1:

Crash Stirs Rule Probe

 

DUARTE, CALIF. (UPI) — Visual flight rules for aircraft operations near crowded metropolitan areas may come under close scrutiny because of the weekend air collision near here which killed 50 persons, a federal investigator said Tuesday.

Oscar M. Laurel, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board team investigating Sunday’s collision between an Air West DC9 and a Marine F4 fighter jet said now “may be a good time to take another look” at the regulations.

Laurel’s remark came as rescue workers continued to ferry victims’ bodies by helicopter from the rugged 3,600 foot level of Mt. Bliss to a temporary morgue.

The Air West plane, with 49 persons aboard, was flying through a much used commercial air corridor 40 miles from Los Angeles when the collision occurred. The DC9 was being controlled from a ground radar center while the Marine jet was on a “see and be seen” or visual flight operation.

There was only one survivor, the radar man aboard the military craft who parachuted to safety.

Body of the pilot of the F4 was found in the wreckage and was identified as 1st Lt. James R. Phillips, 28, of Denver, Colo.

The wreckage was strewn over so wide a region that by darkness Tuesday when operations ended only 34 of the victims had been accounted for and taken out of the area.

In Washington, the National Association of Government Employes [sic], which represents some air route traffic controllers, urged the government to finance additional equipment to provide radar separation between planes on instrument flights and those flying under visual rules.

The group said the Duarte collision might have been avoided with added radar.

The flight recorder from the DC9 was recovered near the tail section of the wreckage and flown to Washington. Investigators hope its data will tell them how fast the airliner was flying, its altitude and precise heading.

“If it had everything we hope it has, we should be able to recontruct the entire flight path of the airliner,” said Brad Dunbar, a spokesman for the federal safety team.

At the present time, however, conditions surrounding the collision were still unclear and Dunbar said it may never be possible to determine “who whit who.”

10 More Feet–50 Lives Friday, Mar 19 2010 

Transcribed from The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT, June 17, 1971, p. 1:

10 More Feet–50 Lives

Combined UPI and AP

 

DUARTE, CALIF. — The Marine jet which collided with an Air West DC9 June 6 apparently tried to bank away and a matter of only 10 feet could have prevented the loss of 50 lives, a federal investigator said Wednesday.

George R. Baker, chief of the investigating team from the National Transportation Safety Board, also said the commercial jetliner was struck in two places.

The right wing tip of the Marine Phantom F4 impacted near the front of the passenger section of the DC9 and the vertical stabilizer of the fighter sliced through the airliner cockpit at about floor level, he said.

Baker declined to say, however, which plane hit the other.

The Air West jetliner was bound for Salt Lake City from Los Angeles. Thirteen Utahns and seven Idahoans died in the collision.

Lt. Christopher Schiess, radar man of the Marine jet and the only survivor, told investigators June 10 that his craft had executed a 360-degree barrel roll one minute before the crash.

Between 10 and 20 percent of the airliner has been found and brought out ofrom the crash scene. What is needed now, Baker said, are the nose gear and underside of the fuselage so exact angles of impact can be determined.

Finding so many pieces of wreckage in such rough terrain isn’t the only thing hindering the investigation, Baker said. In addition, “We only know within a couple of miles” where the collision took place.

Searchers are also still looking for parts of 9 or 10 bodies — they aren’t sure of the exact number — and the airliner’s entire load of luggage.

Meanwhile, the first lawsuit arising from the crash was filed on behalf of the family of one of the 50 victims. The family of James R. Reeves asked $1 million from Air West and their attorney indicated a claim also would be filed against El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, home base of the Phantom involved in the collision.

Don’t Place Blame for 2-Jet Crash Friday, Mar 19 2010 

Transcribed from the Youngstown Vindicator, Youngstown, OH, June 18, 1971, p. 11:

Don’t Place Blame for 2-Jet Crash

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Federal investigators say the tail and right wing of a Marine F4 Phantom jet fighter slashed through the cockpit and front of the passenger section of a Hughes Air West DC9 jetliner in a crash near Los Angeles in which 50 persons died.

But, said George Baker, who heads the National Transportation Safety Board investigation, “I’m not saying who hit who, only that those areas were apparently the ones that impacted together.”

The sole survivor of the June 6 crash, Marine 1st Lt. Christopher Schiess, the Phantom’s radar intercept officer, has said, “the airliner hit us.”

Fighter Cuts Airliner

Asked if there were entry and exit markings indicating the tail and wing of the fighter had cut through the airliner, Baker answered Wednesday, “Yes.”

Baker also said the Phantom’s transponder, an electronic device that magnifies the radar blip an aircraft makes and gives it a distinct identity on the screen of air controllers, was not in operating condition at the time of the crash.

Air Crash Linked to Acrobatics Wednesday, Mar 17 2010 

Transcribed from The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI, June 10, 1971, p. 3:

Air Crash Linked to Acrobatics

From Press Dispatches

 

Duarte, Calif. — Witnesses to the fatal crash between a Marine jet fighter and a commercial jet airliner — including the radar officer of the military craft — say the Marine jet was performing aerial acrobatics just minutes before the collision Sunday.

The lone survivor of the crash, 1st Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, who parachuted to safety, told the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the pilot did a 360 degree roll at about 15,500 feet.

Safety Board spokesman Brad Dunbar said a 15 year old boy reported that he saw the fighter plane performing stunts and barrel rolls just before the crash.

Acrobatic flight within a traffic control airway would be in violation of federal regulations, said spokesmen for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Marine Corps. The FAA has said the airliner was in a control airway — airspace where at least one aircraft is under FAA control.

Fifty persons, 49 aboard the Hughes Air West DC-9, and 1st Lt. James R. Phillips, pilot of the supersonic Phantom, were killed when the planes collided about 12,000 feet above the San Gabriel Mountains 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Schiess told a news conference Monday that the airliner hit the military craft.

Jeff Whittington, one of 60 witnesses to the collision, told investigators Wednesday that he and a friend saw the military jet “do a spiral and a loop and disappear behind the ridge where they crashed.”

“I saw the left wing of the fighter strike the center of the fuselage of the Air West,” he said. “The military jet went straight down.

Marine Corps sources discounted the report, saying pilots are highly disciplined, and aerobatics would have been a violation of strict flight doctrine.

Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D-Wis.), urged the Navy Wednesday to bar military flights from commercial flight areas.

“Such precautions must be instituted, and must be kept in force at least until fully satisfactory midair collision avoidance systems can be developed and generally installed,” he said.

Efforts to recover bodies of the victims have been hampered by heavy fog at the crash scne. Searchers also were searching the area for the DC-9’s voice recorder, which could provide a record of conversations in the cockpit just before the crash.

The bodies were being ferried out by helicopter. By darkness Wednesday only 34 had been recovered.

Marine Plane Rolled Just Before Collision Wednesday, Mar 17 2010 

Transcribed from The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT, June 10, 1971, pp. 1, A-7:

Marine Plane Rolled Just Before Collision

Combined Wire Services

 

DUARTE, CALIF. — One minutes before a Marine jet fighter and a commercial airliner collided in flight killing 50 persons near here, the military craft executed a 360-degree roll, the sole survivor of the collision told investigators Wednesday.

Brad Dunbar, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board team investigating Sunday’s collision, reported that Marine Lt. Christopher Schiess, 24, radar officer of the craft, who parachuted to safety, said the roll was performed at about 15,500 feet.

Dunbar said Schiess’ full statement would not be released. No other details were disclosed.

The collision occurred at about 12,000 feet in a much-traveled air corridor used by commercial flights out of Los Angeles International Airport. The Air West DC9 was being controlled by radar while the Phantom F4 figher-bomber was on a “see and be seen” or visual flight operation.

Maj. Michael Fibisch, public affairs officer at El Toro Marine Air Station where the fighter was based, declined to remark on Schiess’ statement.

However he did say that aerial acrobatics, such as a 360-degree roll, in commercial air corridors are “definitely not” permissible.

Such acrobatics are permisible in some areas such as over the ocean and “outside of any air routes” but “quite a recognized distance away from any trafficked areas,” he said.

Horace Keene, Federal Aviation Administration officer in Los Angeles, was asked about rules covering acrobatics in trafficked areas.

“I’m sure there are regulations covering it, but I’m not sure what they are,” he replied.

Keene did say the area where the collision occurred “was a controlled airspace.”

Earlier in the day in a signed statement, a 15-year-old boy said he saw the Marine fighter doing stunts just before it collided with the Air West jetliner.

Jeff Whittington, 15, was one of 60 eyewitnesses to the collision being interviewed by safety team members, whose task is to determine what caused the crash and who was responsible.

Whittington said he and a friends [sic] saw the military jet “do a spiral and a loop and disappear behind the ridge where they crashed.”

“I saw the left wing of the fighter strike the center of the fuselage of the Air West,” he said. “The military jet went straight down.”

In Washington, Rep. Sherman P. Lloyd, R-Utah, says high-speed military aircraft flying near heavily used commercial air routes around major airports should be required to establish contact with airport radar facilities.

Lloyd said such a rule might help prevent the recurrence of mishaps similar to the one Sunday near Los Angeles.

Thirteen of those killed were from Utah and seven from Idaho.

“It is not known what circumstances led to the collision Sunday or who, if anyone, was at fault,” Lloyd said.

“However,” he added, “it has been brought to my attention by Utah aeronautics officials that military aircraft operating under visual flight rules are not required to report to Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control facilities when entering crowded airways.”

The congressman said many military pilots do so on their own, but said the procedure “should be made a hard, fast rule.”

Lloyd asked Transportation Secretary John Volpe to study his proposal.

Another congressman, Rep. Henry S. Reuss, D-Wis., wants the Navy to bar military flights from commercial flight areas.

In a letter to Navy Secretary John H. Chafee, Reuss Wednesday urged the Navy “to keep military flights under your command away from areas surrounding commercial airports, and out of heavily traveled commercial flight paths.”

And aide said the congressman meant flight paths immediately surrounding commercial airports which commercial planes use for take-offs and for landing approaches.

“Such precautions must be instituted, and must be kept in force at least until fully satisfactory midair collision avoidance systems can be developed and generally installed.”

In Idaho, it was reported the F4 Phantom jet involved in the collision stopped at the Mountain Home Air Force Base for several hours prior to the collision.

Lt. Bill Poythress, a public information officer at the base, said the jet stopped at the Idaho base on a flight from McCord AFB, Wash.

Poythress said he did not know whether repairs were made on the craft at Mountain Home, as some sources have indicated, because the Federal Aviation Agency has impounded all records of the jet’s stopover.

“It’s not unordinary for jet flights of this nature to set down at Mountain Home,” said Poythress. He said pilots logging hours often will land for a couple of hours for various reasons.

The Marine jet flew from Mountain Home to Fallon Naval Air Station, Nev., before proceeding en route to El Toro Naval Air Base near Los Angeles.

Efforts to recover bodies of the victims of Sunday’s crash have been hampered by heavy fog at the crash scene — the 3,600-foot level of rugged Mt. Bliss in the San Gabriel Mountains 40 miles from Los Angeles.

The bodies were being ferried out by helicopter, and by darkness Wednesday only 34 had been recovered and only 11 of those identified.

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