ANALYSIS: Controller Error & NMAC, east of Kona, on 4/25/2014

UPDATED, 5/19/2014…
When this article was originally Posted by aiREFORM, on 5/17 (22-days after the near-collision), FAA was still not sharing information. New information has since been released anonymously. It identifies the conflicting flight as USAir Flight #432, westbound at 33,000 feet. Details are updated below.

On Friday April 25, at approximately 4:16PM Pacific time, the pilot of an eastbound United B757 abruptly descended to avoid a westbound USAirways B757, northeast of Kona, Hawaii. The United flight (UAL1205) was heading from Kona to LAX; it had leveled at 33,000 feet and was established on the oceanic route R578, roughly 200 miles northeast of Kona. Two U.S. Airways flights were enroute westbound, thus nose-to-nose with the United flight. One was USAir663, from Phoenix to Kona, at 34,000 feet; the other was USAir432, from Phoenix to Maui, at 33,000 feet. All flights were tracking along the same oceanic route R578.

An account of this incident was posted online by Kevin Townsend. He notes that some passengers screamed when they experienced the sudden maneuver, and a flight attendant soon came over the intercom with, “the pilot took evasive action to avoid an aircraft in our flight path.” Then, to settle rattled nerves (and distract the passengers), she announced a few minutes later: “Aloha! United Airlines will be offering today’s DirecTV entertainment free of charge. Anyone who has already purchased in-flight entertainment will receive a reimbursement on their credit card.”

It turns out Mr. Townsend is a writer, based in San Francisco, who happened to be returning that Friday from a Hawaiian vacation. He is also a bit persistent and adept at online research and contacting FAA and airline officials, and from this he wrote an article. His article is an interesting read, but also a bit disturbing because he documents that, when he contacted FAA officials, they generally blew him off. It was weeks later before FAA initiated an investigation — and that delay may have allowed ATC audio tapes and other hard evidence to be destroyed. So much for accountability.

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For an analysis of this incident, including flight data and aviation charts,
please see page two of this aiREFORM Post.