An Actual Midair Between a Helicopter and a Cessna at San Jose’s Reid-Hillview Airport, on May 9, 1999

Below is a copy of a news article about a San Jose midair collision on a Sunday morning in May 1999. This collision was literally inches short of a midair fireball, with debris raining down onto houses and a park, where hundreds were gathered for Sunday soccer matches.

There were three critical FAA failures in this incident:

  • First, the supervisor working the aircraft failed to issue necessary traffic to ensure the pilots would see and avoid each other.
  • Second, the FAA management failed to develop de-conflicted traffic patterns, and knowingly allowed excessively busy flight operations where helicopters and fixed-wing flights would be unavoidably in dangerously close proximity.
  • And third, once the May 9, 1999 midair collision happened, FAA management (Supervisor Roberto Aranda, Tower Manager Paul Pagel, and likely un-named higher officials in the Hub and Regional offices) knowingly concealed facts and failed to notify NTSB. FAA management had a requirement to notify NTSB, so that an investigation could be conducted, to help improve aviation system safety.

Here is the article (highlights added by aiREFORM.com)…20000124.. SJMercury article on 5-9-99 RHV midair_120000124.. SJMercury article on 5-9-99 RHV midair_220000124.. SJMercury article on 5-9-99 RHV midair_3

Two of the controllers at the FAA tower at Reid-Hillview Airport spoke up, when they saw that the tower management was sweeping the accident (and controller error) under the rug. We (Jeff Lewis and Don Hiebert) both repeatedly questioned the supervisor, Roberto Aranda, who repeatedly blew off our concerns and claimed that management was still waiting for ‘metallurgical tests’.

Here is a portion of a draft memo I had compiled, to issue to Mr. Aranda. I never gave him a copy; I was fearful of the repercussions if I were to be that aggressive in speaking up for aviation safety. So, eight months after the midair, it was a surprise to me when the news story appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.
19990512.. clip re NTSB reporting, from DRAFT memo to KRHV Sup.Aranda, re 5-9-1999 midair

So, Did NTSB Ever Do an Investigation?

No. FAA did not notify NTSB, and instead investigated this incident internally.

Instead, the limited data collected by an FAA investigator was compiled into the FAA’s in-house Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS). Here is the event description from the Cessna N9568G ASIAS report (underlines added by aiREFORM.com):

19990509.. N9568G ASIAS report, screencap of narrative


 

I wanted to determine which online databases included reports related to the May 9, 1999 Reid Hillview midair collision. I soon established that there are three major databases, all accessible using these links:

 NTSB:  http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/month.aspx
 ASIAS-AIDS: http://www.asias.faa.gov/pls/apex/f?p=100:12:0::NO:12::
 NASA ASRS: http://akama.arc.nasa.gov/ASRSDBOnline/QueryWizard_Filter.aspx

While researching the three major accident/incident databases, I came across numerous collisions, but three others seemed to best illustrate the failure by FAA to act on the Reid Hillview midair. Below, I have compiled details of each of the four total incidents. Three are midair collisions (including the 5/9/1999 KRHV midair), and one is a ground collision. For all of these incidents (except the KRHV midair collision) the incident was promptly reported to NTSB, and then investigated by a non-FAA agency. Here are short summaries:

  1. On 5/16/1998, two flight instruction aircraft based at the same KRHV FBO collided midair near the uncontrolled airport in Hollister, CA [KCVH]. A departing light twin and an arriving single-prop were both able to safely land at the airport after their left wingtips had collided .
    FAA employees created no record within the ASIAS-AIDS database. None of the four pilots filed a report with the ASRS. But, at least one pilot must have complied with AIM Para. 7-6-2, as NTSB did investigate. They created  a detailed Full Narrative Report for Incident LAX98LA164A.
  2. On 5/26/1998, a ground collision happened at the controlled airport in Lincoln, NE [KLNK]. ATC cleared both single-engine aircraft to land: a Christian Eagle (taildragger) was cleared for Runway 14, while a Mooney was cleared for Runway 17L. ATC issued taxi instructions and a hold-short of Runway 17L to the Eagle, then instructed the landed Mooney to turn left at the same location. The Mooney turned and stopped, then ATC told the Eagle to move ahead. This caused a collision because the taildragger pilot had to taxi with S-turns and could not see the position of the Mooney. The Eagle’s propeller sliced the elevator of the Mooney, but there were no injuries.
    FAA employees created no record within the ASIAS-AIDS database. None of the four pilots filed a report with the ASRS. But, either ATC or at least one of the two pilots must have complied with AIM Para. 7-6-2, as NTSB did investigate. They created  a detailed Full Narrative Report for Incident CHI98LA177A.
  3. On 5/9/1999, the concealed midair at KRHV:
    FAA employees created a record within the in-house ASIAS-AIDS, and (1) ASRS was filed by the Cessna pilot (no filings by helo or ATC). Nobody submitted the mandatory notification to NTSB.
  4. On 5/30/1999, a Cessna Skyhawk and a motorglider collided in midair while in the pattern for the controlled airport in Mesa, AZ [KFFZ]. The Cessna was flying left closed traffic to Runway 04L. The motorglider called ATC and got a takeoff clearance off Runway 04R and advised he wanted to stay in the pattern. ATC told the motorglider to extend upwind, and also told him to follow the Cessna ahead and to his left. In hindsight, it appears the pilot looked over and saw another Cessna entering the downwind and turned to follow him. Thus, the motorglider ended up slightly in front of the Cessna, then was run over by the Cessna in the downwind. Both aircraft were damaged but able to make runway landings.
    FAA employees created no record within the ASIAS-AIDS database. None of the three pilots filed a report with the ASRS. But, either ATC or at least one of the three pilots must have complied with AIM Para. 7-6-2, as NTSB did investigate. They created  a detailed Full Narrative Report for Incident LAX99LA204A.