Mrs Obama's plane flew dangerously close to jet
Michelle Obama ... was aboard the Boeing 737. Photo: Jay LaPrete
WASHINGTON: A White House plane carrying Michelle Obama came dangerously close to a 180-tonne military jet and had to abort its landing as the result of an air-traffic controller's mistake.
Controllers at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland feared the cargo jet would not clear the runway in time for the first lady's plane to land, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak for their agencies.
On Tuesday, officials with the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that Mrs Obama was aboard the plane and said that ''the aircraft were never in any danger''. Mrs Obama was returning from New York on Monday, where she had attended events with Jill Biden, the wife of the Vice-President, Joe Biden, and was aboard a Boeing 737, one of two operated by the 89th Airlift Wing, when the error occurred.
The controllers in the tower at Andrews recognised that the C-17 jet and Mrs Obama's plane were far too close when a controller at the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Virginia handed off responsibility for the two aircraft.
They ordered the Boeing to execute a series of S-turns in an effort to create a safe distance between it and the cargo jet, federal officials said. When those manoeuvres failed to achieve the required distance between the planes they aborted the landing of the Boeing and ordered it to circle the airport.
A fully loaded C-17 cargo jet can create such turbulence that the FAA requires an eight-kilometre separation between planes. The 737 was within five kilometres of the C-17 when the hand-off took place
''The manager and tower controller at Andrews did several things to try to increase the separation on final [approach] before ordering a go-around,'' said a senior FAA manager familiar with the incident.
On Tuesday, the FAA, which is already dealing with a series of controversies involving air-traffic controllers sleeping and watching a movie on the job, sent a team of investigators to the radar control centre in Warrenton, Virginia, where the mistake was made.
The Washington Post