NTSB: Air traffic controller, pilots share blame in mid-air collision over Brown Field

Controller had 9 aircraft, limit was 7
Posted at 4:56 PM, Dec 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-22 20:35:53-05

SAN DIEGO - A National Transportation Safety Board report shows an air traffic controller in the tower at Brown Field had too much going on at the time two planes collided, killing five people in 2015.

A year and a half after the crash, the NTSB released a report that shows air traffic controllers bear most of the blame in the fiery collision between a Sabreliner jet and a Cessna.

The report says an air traffic control trainee was getting on-the-job training in the minutes before the fatal crash. When it became apparent there was too much activity for the trainee to handle, the local controller took over.

The controller was handling 9 aircraft, when his workload limit was 7. According to the investigation report, the controller made several errors, including telling the pilot of the Cessna to make a 360-degree turn that resulted in the collision.

The pilots involved also didn't have a clear view of the other aircraft nearby, the report says.

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The report also says many of the errors made were the result of the high workload. The controller's stress was apparent to the pilots listening to his commands. One of the pilots in the Sabreliner was heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying, "Wow, he's like panicking" -- with an emphasis on panicking -- according to the report.

The report also places partial blame on the pilots. Because the weather was clear that day, the pilots might have avoided the collision by using the "see and avoid" rule. The pilots could have shown more "situational awareness," according to investigators. If they had been more aware, the pilots may have been able to "take evasive action in time to avert the collision."

RELATED: Wife of Otay Mesa midair collision victim files lawsuit

The families of those killed in the crash have pending lawsuits against Serco, Inc., the private company that handles air traffic control at Brown Field.

Two trials are set to begin next summer.