‘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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Tighten Rules On Military Plane Flights Monday, Jan 17 2011 

Transcribed from The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 21, 1971, p. 9:

Tighten Rules On Military Plane Flights

By JOHN STOWELL
Associated Press Writer

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military pilots, involved in one of every four near-misses with other planes, will fly under civilian direction more often in the wake of a 50-death crash of a Marine jet and an airliner.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday the armed services agreed to its request to cut down on the number of fixed-wing military aircraft operating under the rule of “see and be seen.”

In the future, the FAA said, all military administrative and cross-country flights and some flights to and from military bases will be operated under instrument flight rules whenever possible.

That would put them under direction of FAA air-traffic controllers based at civilian airport towers, and require military pilots to file flight plans.

A Marine F4 Phantom jet was flying by visual rules when it collided June 6 with an Air West DC9 over the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. Killed were 44 passengers and five crew members aboard the DC9 and the F4 pilot.

The only survivor of that crash, a radar officer aboard the military plane, said he saw the approaching jetliner and shouted a warning to his pilot just seconds before the crash. The radar officer parachuted to safety.

The FAA said its radar watchers had been tracking the DC9 after takeoff from Los Angels [sic] for Salt Lake City, but did not see on their screens the military jet en route from Nevada to Santa Ana, Calif., on a low-level navigational training flight.

Military Craft Due to Fly by Civilian Rules Monday, Jan 17 2011 

Transcribed from The Portsmouth Times, Portsmouth, OH, June 19, 1971, p. 7:

Military Craft Due to Fly by Civilian Rules

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military pilots, involved in one of every four near-misses with other planes, will fly under civilian direction more often in the wake of a 50-death crash of a Marine jet and an airliner.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday the armed forces agreed to its request to cut down on the number of fixed-wing military aircraft operating under the rule of “see and be seen.”

In the future, the FAA said, all military administrative and cross-country flights and some flights to and from military bases will be operated under instrument flight rules whenever possible.

That would put them under direction of FAA air-traffic controllers based at civilian airport towers, and require military pilots to file flight plans.

A Marine F4 Phantom jet was flying by visual rules when it collided June 6 with an Air West DC9 over the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. Killed were 44 passengers and five crew members aboard the DC9 and the F4 pilot.

The only survivor of that crash, a radar officer aboard the military plane, said he saw the approaching jetliner and shouted a warning to his pilot just seconds before the crash. The radar officer parachuted to safety.

The FAA said its radar watchers had been tracking the DC9 after takeoff from Los Angels [sic] for Salt Lake City but did not see on their screens the military jet en route from Nevada to Santa Ana, Calif., on a low-level navigational training flight.

While most commercial airliners operate on instruments at all times, current federal regulations allow other pilots the option of following visual flight rules when the sky is clear.

All planes must follow instrument flight rules, however, when flying between 24,000- and 60,000-feet altitude over most of the United States and when flying above 18,000 feet in the crowded skyways of the Northeast and a strip along the U.S.-Canadian border.

The FAA, in a 1968 study, found that military pilots reported one-fourth of the 2,230 near-miss aircraft encounters that year. It said aircraft involved in the near-miss reports carried more than 100,000 persons, and concluded there were probably four such instances for each one reported voluntarily.

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.

Survivor says jet fighter was ‘stunting’ Wednesday, Mar 17 2010 

Transcribed from The Bryan Times, Bryan, OH, June 10, 1971, p. 10:

Survivor says jet fighter was ‘stunting’

 

DUARTE, Calif. (UPI) — One monute [sic] 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 Scheiss, 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 deatails 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 fighter 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 crashed 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 “definetely not” permissible.