View Full Version : Question about near midair over Atlantic

9th Sep 2002, 21:30
I was looking back through an old incident report about a Delta L1011 that went off course and came within less than 100 feet of a continental 747 over the North Atlantic. I remember that there was a lot of media coverage at the time including a picture taken by one of the passengers.
The report talks about its concern of the in-flight discussions immediately after the incident with "aircrew from several countries gave advice to avoid or delay reporting this incident..." which "...put many people at risk for a longer than necessary time period...". I remember a report that a military crew saved the recording, on the CVR I assume, of what was said.
Does anybody remember what was said by whom?

9th Sep 2002, 22:28
My recollection is that Delta wanted Continental to not report the incident. In those unenlightened days (1987) many Continental flight crews were considered s**bs (of course, now they are fully rehabilitated and have ALPA pins).

When the incident occured, Delta had little in the way of overwater procedures or experience. Plotting charts were not used and navigation was somewhat casual. Seems like Delta was using an Omega and somehow skipped 60 miles over to the next track. After a very near miss, Delta came up on guard and got Continental to switch to 123.45 or something similar.

Delta tried to persuade Continental to keep things quiet but Continental said the pax had seen the near miss and were about to break the door down (figuratively speaking, of course). A Canadian CP-140 Aurora recorded the exchange, perhaps along with the advice of everyone who was on the frequency, over twenty aircraft from what I remember.

The Delta TriStar was subsequently lead to shore by visually trailing a Pan Am A-310 under the command of a guy named Skip Coolidge. I seem to recall that at the hearing, the feds tried to quiz Captain Coolidge on the activities of his flight engineer. The two pilot glass cockpit was obviously a novel concept at the time. Sadly, Skip Coolidge expired of a heart attack a few months after the hearing.

After the feds had the hearing, Delta adopted most of Pan Am's overwater procedures (ten minute plot, circle, underline and slash waypoints etc.).

At least, that's the way I remember it...


Delta-Continental Near-Miss
Peter G. Neumann <[email protected]>

Fri 4 Sep 87 13:24:57-PDT

The 4 Sept 87 papers note that the Delta L-1011 flight on 8 July 1987 that
was 60 miles off course actually came within 30 feet of colliding with the
Continental 747, and that four of the five safety measures that had been
previously recommended had been ignored, including plotting the expected
course on a map -- in fact, the appropriate chart was not even on board.
The cause of the near-miss is attributed to false data entry of the inertial
navigation heading. Both the USA and Canada announced stepped-up use of
redundant checks in the navigational procedures...

From: http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/5.32.html#subj5

10th Sep 2002, 09:34
I covered this story for Flight International. The reason that the investigators (US? Canadian?) made so much of it was that the radio debate about what to do next involved, from memory, something like ten crews - all urging the crew not to report it. As posted, a USAF C-130 skipper was so shocked that he pulled the CB on his CVR to preserve the tapes.

This was pre-Internet and I can't easily find my own story without trawling our paper archives. If it was an NTSB report then it should be on their website which does cover that period.

10th Sep 2002, 16:19
The final report was made by what was formerly known as the Canadian Aviation Safety Board. A crew saved the recording on the CVR and it was submitted to the CASB(not sure about the legality of disabling your CVR for the rest of the flight if that is what was done). The CASB normally doesn't release CVR recordings. I thought perhaps a PPRUNE member might know more details.

Notso Fantastic
10th Sep 2002, 19:59
Perhaps you could expand on the reason for your interest?

15th Sep 2002, 02:15
I've heard this story from a number of viewpoints and can summarize (if memory serves me well) as follows:

The Delta TriStar was equipped with triple INS and went off-course as a consequence of an error in waypoint lat/long entry.

As the Delta procedures of the day did not include

- customary pre-flight checks of "PF enters / PNF checks" waypoint data;

- no prescribed 'crosschecks' of next lat / long, distance to next waypoint, or desired track when passing a waypoint;

- and no plotting chart (or procedures for its use) by which a 2 degree / 10 minute plot might have been accomplished

the turn off track to the erroneously entered waypoint was not noticed by the crew.

The hero of the day might have been the Delta second officer who was required to load his INS independently from the PF / PNF and display 'XTE' on his #3 INS whilst in the track; supposedly, a food tray on the center console obscured the vital data which may have prevented the near miss.

As the aircraft windscreen had been 'papered over' for sun block purposes (sun screens were not provided in those days) the first 'clue' the Delta crew had that something was amiss was the 'thump' of the DC-10s wake turtbulence as the TriStar passed some 50' beneath it.

Subsequent radio comments encouraging the Continental crew to not report the near miss apparently did fall on deaf ears - understandable given the 'scab' rhetoric of the day as well as the fact the passengers were more than a little agitated after the 'thump' of the near miss and the sight of the Delta aircraft out the window.

As a Continental passenger in posession of a video camera noticed the approaching Delta aircraft and filmed the entire incident (that is, until the TriStar disappeared from view beneath the DC-10 and shook the aircraft so badly that the poor man dropped the camera) any attempt at a cover-up would have been short-lived.

The tape of the subsequent radio chatter actually came courtesy of the aircraft commander of a USAF flight from the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB (the 'VIP' transport wing which includes Air Force One).

Disgusted by the subsequent entreaties to cover up the incident, the man directed his crew to use the communications gear on board his aircraft (can't recall, but I think it was a VC-135) to record the chatter and later forwarded the tape to the authorities.

Happily, luck smiled on all that day as a tragedy was averted by the 'soft' altitude hold feature of the TriStar that allowed the aircraft to wander as much as 200' from the MCP altitude.

In the post-incident investigation, I understand an FAA inspector audited the next DAL transoceanic procedures ground school; when he asked the instructor at the conclusion of the course why he was not teaching procedures contained in the then-current FAA Advisory Circular on Long Range Navigation Procedures, supposedly the man replied "I've never heard it."

To their credit, the Delta people were quick to get their house in order with the appropriate procedures and hundreds of line checks to ensure that the crews fell in line.

The effort to 'raise standards' at the airline was motivated as well by the other incidents in that 'Summer of '87' - including an inadvertant dual engine shutdown at low altitude on a 767 departing LAX and a 'wrong airport' landing by a 737 in Frankfort, Kentucky - to say nothing of the relentless black humor of Johnny Carson who 'had his way' with the airline on late-night television.

The footnote to the story was the less than good fortune of the USAF skipper who suffered both fame and notoriety for his part and - after retiring some years later - had little luck with his application for a job at Delta.

Carbon Life Form
15th Sep 2002, 05:08
Just to enlighten readers further, there are approximately
600 Scabs at Continental, Frank Lorenzo's 'boys' that crossed the
picket line and stole real pilots jobs in '83 and '84.

It would be unfortunate to consider any other than these pond scum as befitting the above description, the majority of Continental pilots are honest and honorable individuals.

The damage that those slimeballs caused is incalculable, let's just make sure we knowwho they are and not lump them with the good guys.

<Even United has Scabs>

15th Sep 2002, 07:46
All in the fold now, Carbon Life Form....ain't ALPO wonderful?

And you say they "stole jobs from real CAL pilots"? How do you figure?

15th Sep 2002, 14:09
Bob won't you ever give up?

t'aint natural
15th Sep 2002, 22:06
'As a Continental passenger in posession of a video camera noticed the approaching Delta aircraft and filmed the entire incident (that is, until the TriStar disappeared from view beneath the DC-10 and shook the aircraft so badly that the poor man dropped the camera) any attempt at a cover-up would have been short-lived.'
This wasn't head-on then. Where was this guy sitting?

Gin Slinger
15th Sep 2002, 22:15
t'aint natural: one would assume in a window seat, on one side of the aircraft or t'other ;)

16th Sep 2002, 17:35
anyone know if any photos or video exist of this incident? as taken on board?

16th Sep 2002, 20:10
If that happened today, the video tape would be sold to CNN via the in-seat telephone, before they reached destination!!

Just think, Delta had the chance to take on the pilot who saved tehm from themselves - and blew it! Big companies always work that way. When they have the b@lls to say, "We made a mess of this, please come and help us some." If they would, I think, have gained PR kudos.

I'll keep my camera primed on my next flight.

19th Oct 2011, 23:04

A radio conversation among pilots after two airliners nearly collided over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday included repeated suggestions that the incident not be reported, officials close to an investigation of the incident said yesterday.
But the pilot of the Continental jumbo jet involved refused firmly to go along. He said that many people knew about the near miss and that he had to report it, the officials said.
Other participants in the radio conversations were pilots aboard the Delta L-1011, which missed the Continental Boeing 747 by 100 feet or less after straying 60 miles off course, and the crews of two other airliners in the area. Officials said they could not be sure who first suggested hushing up the events, and who lent support. 'Nobody Knows Except Us'
''I have passengers pounding on the door, and crying, and they saw the whole thing out the windows,'' was the gist of the Continental pilot's reply, according to a version of the radio exchange supplied by an airline industry source. Almost 600 people were aboard the two planes.

The matter was originally raised when someone asked the Continental pilots whether they were going to file a report on the near collision, the officials familiar with the inquiry said. When the Continental crew members gave their first quick indication that they would, the sources added, it was followed by a transmission to the effect that ''nobody knows about it except us, you idiots!''
Government investigators said the issue of who said what would be cleared up by pilots and others who can identify the voices on a tape recording made aboard an Air Force Boeing 707 in the vicinity. The Air Force pilots took special steps to prevent the 30-minute tape from being erased because they were upset by what they were hearing, the officials said. Outrage at the F.A.A. One highly placed official of the Federal Aviation Administration said agency officials who listened to the tape recording were ''outraged'' by what they heard. ''For two years,'' he said, ''the F.A.A. has had in place a program to push flight crews to file near-midair-collision reports.''
Transcripts of the tape recording were not immediately available, so accounts of the radio conversation were reconstructed from the memory of officials who had heard the tape or talked to some of the pilots involved.

Federal air regulations require pilots who stray off course to promptly notify air-traffic controllers. This is especially important over the ocean, which is not covered by radar that allows controllers to follow the aircraft. Instead, the controllers must rely on crews' following their assigned tracks and on position reports made by radio.
The Air Force tape was turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which forwarded it to the Canadian Air Safety Board. The Canadians are conducting the main inquiry because the incident occurred in airspace under their authority, about three hours west of London on the two planes' parallel flights to the United States. But the F.A.A. announced yesterday that it was conducting its own inquiry, in coordination with the American safety board. Questions for Investigators
The F.A.A. said it was focusing on such questions as these:
* Why did the Delta plane stray 60 miles off course?
* How close did the Delta plane come to planes other than the Continental jet?

* What actions were taken by various flight crews after the incident?
The near disaster, and another close call over the Atlantic 800 miles south of New York a day later, raised to new levels the concern among Government and industry experts over the state of air safety. Air traffic has been increasing relentlessly, and with it reports of near-collisions and errors by controllers. A controller error caused a Pan American World Airways and a Viasa Venezuelan jetliner, carrying a total of about 180 passengers, to come within a quarter mile of colliding head-on on Thursday.
In Wednesday's incident, the two planes were flying at 31,000 feet on parallel tracks westward from Gatwick Airport in London. The Delta plane, a three-engine Lockheed jet carrying 153 passengers and a crew of up to 12, was headed for Cincinnati and was assigned to the middle track of five trans-Atlantic routes from Europe, the ''C'' track. The Continental 747, carrying 399 passengers and 19 crew members to Newark International Airport, was assigned to the ''D'' track 60 miles to the south. Two Other Crews Participate
For reasons that have not been determined, the Delta L-1011 strayed south and, in clear weather at midday, passed just beneath the Continental jet, crossing its path at about a 20-degree angle.

An American Airlines Boeing 747 was on the same track as the Continental plane, flying behind and much higher, and its crew saw the near-collision. A Pan American World Airways Airbus A-310 was flying the track the Delta Air Lines plane should have followed.
The crews of both the American and Pan Am planes participated in the radio discussions that followed. It was not clear whether they joined the discussion of whether to suppress any report to the authorities. But it is known that they helped guide the straying Delta airliner back to its course.
Federal officials, however, indicated that they were not happy with this contribution. Their view was that it was dangerous for an off-course plane to be flying courses that were not known to traffic controllers. This was because the controllers, with no radar to watch, could not then be confident that the straying craft was safely separated from other planes. 'What Are You Doing?'
As reconstructed by Government officials and others, the first exchanges were made on an emergency radio frequency that all airliners must monitor.

The officials said the startled Contnental crew, which had just seen the Delta plane slide underneath it, said something like: ''Hey Delta, what are you doing down here?''
Delta asked what Continental was talking about, and it soon became apparent that, while the Delta crew members thought their plane was on the ''C'' track, they really were on the ''D'' track. This was confirmed by the American Airlines crew. At one point, everyone agreed to switch from the emergency frequency to a standard frequency.
It was soon after this that the Continental crew members were first asked by somone whether they were going to report the near collision. Then someone suggested that nobody else had to know about it because only the crews were aware of what had happened.
A comment was also heard about ''a couple of pilots trying to save their licenses.'' The F.A.A. has the authority to fine or suspend pilots or revoke their flying licenses if it finds they have violated regulations.
At another point, a voice came on suggesting that the Continental pilots ''think about it for awhile.''
Finally, the Continental pilots repeated their ''no.'' They said they were sorry, but there was no way the incident could be kept from reaching official attention with so many passengers having wit=nessed the close call.

PILOT IN NEAR COLLISION OVER OCEAN SUGGESTED INCIDENT BE KEPT SECRET - New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/11/us/pilot-in-near-collision-over-ocean-suggested-incident-be-kept-secret.html?src=pm)

20th Oct 2011, 00:44
DAL had so many excursions on the NAT, in addition to that close call, they almost lost their international certificate. The FAA would have continued to kiss their backside, but ICAO was more than slightly ticked off.

I know they sat down with us (TWA) and learned about plotting charts, etc.

So far as I know all international L-1011s had three INSes. In triple mix they were quite accurate.

20th Oct 2011, 01:44
Curious as to why this thread is resurfacing after so many years ?!

blind pew
20th Oct 2011, 08:21
My last employer had a similar cross track incident, INS was loaded with the wrong latitude of one waypoint.

The crew only realized it when the engineer discovered an apparent fuel error.

The incident wasn't reported and was at night - east bound - fatigue was a factor.

20th Oct 2011, 08:27
Quiet news day, maybe? :confused:

20th Oct 2011, 09:49
Interestingly, ASN does not list this incident, and the TSB report does not seem to be out there either.

28th Jul 2019, 20:44
Interestingly, ASN does not list this incident, and the TSB report does not seem to be out there either.

Here's a report from the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (predecessor of the TSB):