WASHINGTON — An air traffic controller making a personal phone call failed to warn a small plane of aircraft in its path, then tried unsuccessfully to contact the pilot, federal safety officials said Friday. Moments later, the plane collided with a tour helicopter over the Hudson River, killing nine people.
The controller and the supervisor at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey during last Saturday's accident are on administrative leave pending a Federal Aviation Administration inquiry.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a report that the controller cleared the single-engine Piper for takeoff at 11:48 a.m., then made a personal call. He remained on the phone until the accident occurred.
After takeoff, the plane flew south until the controller directed it to turn left toward the river, the report said. At 11:52 a.m. the controller instructed the plane to contact air traffic control at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport, which monitors low-flying traffic over the river but doesn't separate aircraft.
The pilot apparently did not contact Newark, the report said.
Radar data show there were several aircraft immediately ahead of the plane, including the tour helicopter, "all of which were potential traffic conflicts for the airplane," but the controller didn't warn the pilot.
It wasn't until controllers at the nearby Newark airport alerted the Teterboro controller to the potential collision that he tried to contact the pilot, the report said. The collision occurred shortly after that.
FAA said late Thursday the phone conversation was inappropriate. The supervisor's conduct also is being investigated because he was out of the building at the time.