Near-collision at Ben-Gurion After Flight Controller 'Lost It'

Two El Al planes were circling during heavy traffic at airport

A near collision between two El Al planes coming in to land at Ben-Gurion International Airport is being investigated by the Transportation Ministry. The two planes came dangerously close to each other last Friday morning, when at least 10 incoming flights were kept circling due to traffic overload, officials said.

Haaretz reported earlier this week that delays before landing included a risk of running out of fuel, with one El Al flight starting preparation for landing in Amman.

The situation Friday was worse than first thought. Yitzhak Raz, the ministry's chief investigator of air accidents, said that close to 4 A.M., the air traffic controller in Ben-Gurion's northern sector "lost control" of the situation. Consequently, airplanes were in danger of colliding. In one case, an El Al plane's automatic warning device was activated, signaling a dangerous proximity to another El Al plane waiting to land. The captain was forced to divert the aircraft.

A preliminary probe found that due to the numerous planes circling, transmission with the traffic controllers in the northern sector was filled with noises, which made it difficult for pilots and controller to hear each other so planes came dangerously close.

The Airport Authority commented: "On July 9, 2010, airplanes were waiting [to land] in the northern center west of Israel's coastline. The [delays] were not related to the runway construction work going on.... During the incident the air traffic controller noticed two airplanes were too close to each other. He dealt with the situation and reported it as a non-severe incident, in line with regulations."

El Al commented: "The pilots acted in line with regulations and their instructions."