WASHINGTON -- In a rare move, the National Transportation Safety Board Thursday amended its report on the tragic 1978 jetliner-small plane collision over San Diego, blaming air traffic control procedures as well as pilot error.
The board acted in response to a 1980 petition by the Air Line Pilots Association to reopen its investigation in light of evidence that a third 'mystery plane' was in the area at the time of the collision and may have diverted the attention of the jet's flight crew.
Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, a Boeing 727, collided with a Cessna 172 on a training flight over San Diego in clear weather the morning of Sept. 25, 1978, sending both planes to the ground.
The death toll of 144 made it the nation's worst aviation disaster up to that time.
The pilots' group argued the PSA crew should not be held responsible for the collision, saying the pilots may not have seen the Cessna 172, although they were told by controllers to watch out for a Cessna. The safety board's 1979 report had blamed the crew for failing to watch out for the Cessna 172.
The agency rejected ALPA's argument and concluded the flight crew did spot the Cessna 172, but might not have understood its significance because of incomplete traffic advisories.
ALPA suggested that the sight of a second Cessna might have lulled the PSA crewmen into a false sense of security and set them up for the collision with the Cessna 172, which was climbing from the smaller Montgomery airport in San Diego as the 727 was descending for a landing at Lindbergh field.
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'While the safety board still believes that the flight crew's actions were causal to the accident, our re-examination of the previous evidence in conjunction with the new material on the (second) Cessna leads us to conclude that the actions and omissions of the controllers as well as those of the Cessna pilot contributed to the accident,' the board said on a 4-0 vote, with member Patrick Bursley abstaining.
'Based on this re-evaluation, the safety board now concludes that the air traffic control procedures played an equal role with that of the flight crew in the sequence of events that led to the accident.'
The board also adopted three 'contributing factors,' two citing the controller involved and one citing the pilot of the Cessna 172.
It cited: the failure of the controller to advise the PSA crew of the direction of movement of the Cessna; improper resolution by the controller of a 'conflict alert' that showed on his radar screen; and failure of the Cessna pilot to maintain his assigned heading.
It concluded the two traffic advisories issued by the controller regarding the second Cessna 'did not present the total traffic picture to the flight crew, that they decreased the flight crew's chances to assess the developing hazard accurately, and therefore they were a contributory factor to the accident.'