Two Qantas planes packed with passengers came within 250m of a mid-air collision, an incident report has revealed.
News.com.au reports that a QantasLink Boeing 717 with 115 passengers approached Darwin International Airport in Australia last Tuesday when an RAAF air traffic controller unknowingly put it on a collision course with a Qantas Boeing 737-838 carrying 155 passengers, which had just taken off.
The collision avoidance system on board the Boeing 717 warned the pilots that there was another plane just 800ft beneath them.
But in the incident report Captain Robert Flipo wrote that 'it must have got a lot closer than that.'
A source familiar with the near miss said that after the Melbourne-bound 737 took off from the runway shortly after 1.30pm, the RAAF's Australian Defence Air Traffic System mistakenly assigned the tag for the plane to one of its Hercules C-130 aircrafts flying through the control tower's airspace.
This meant air traffic controllers were unable to see the plane's identity, speed or height. An air traffic controller then apparently confused the inbound 717 with the Hercules before accidently setting it on a collision course.
'We had been given a series of apparently non-sensical (sic) clearances both lateral and vertical,' Captain Flipo wrote.
'We asked several times as to the intentions of ATC, e.g. what approach/track miles to expect, but received non-conclusive response.'
He said after clearing the aircraft to land on runway 29 an air traffic controller cleared the plane to descend to 7000ft.
First officer Andrew Field-Dodgson was about to recommence descent when he spotted the other plane.
'It passed directly below us. I saw the traffic collision avoidance system display traffic 800ft (250m) below, and now descending at over 500ft per min,' Flipo said.
The RAAF is responsible for air traffic control at Darwin Airport, which is a shared public and military facility.
An air traffic controller had been suspended and there will be an investigation, a Defence spokesman said.
He added: 'An initial Defence investigation indicates that an Air Traffic Controller inadvertently directed an arriving and a departing aircraft on a path that would have taken the aircraft through the same height.'
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating the incident.
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