Air controllers say NTSB statement about Hudson River crash is misleading


Four words in the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) press release that infer that the Teterboro controller could have warned the pilot of the Piper aircraft about the helicopter over the Hudson River that the aircraft eventually hit are strongly being disputed by air traffic controllers. The NTSB press release infers that at the time, the Teterboro controller told the aircraft to switch his frequency to talk to Newark Tower controllers, there were several aircraft detected by radar in the area immediately ahead of the airplane, “including the accident helicopter.” The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) emphatically declares that these four words are absolutely false and have contributed to the reckless and mistaken conclusion that the Teterboro controller could have prevented this crash.

The same NTSB press release clearly states that the helicopter did not show on radar until 11:52.27, seven seconds after communication with the aircraft was switched from Teterboro to Newark at 11:52.20. But the poorly written and misleading passage about the “accident helicopter” has left the mistaken impression that the Teterboro controller was responsible for not warning the aircraft about that traffic.

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Furthermore, and equally disturbing, the NTSB privately revealed to NATCA officials over the weekend that it knows that the four words in question in its press release are “misleading and inappropriate.” A high-ranking NTSB official stated in an email that the wording “could have been clearer” but that a correction “will not be issued.”

“We believe the NTSB is wrong to infer there was a traffic advisory that could have been issued from Teterboro Tower to the aircraft,” said Ray Adams, NATCA facility representative at Newark Tower who is representing the Teterboro Tower controller in the NTSB crash investigation. “The helicopter was not depicted on the radar prior to the switch of control from Teterboro to Newark Tower. Teterboro had no opportunity to call that traffic. The service of air traffic control is based on “known and observed” traffic. The Teterboro controller had neither seen nor known about the accident helicopter at the transfer of communication to Newark.

“Also, let’s remember that the aircraft never made radio contact with Newark, as Teterboro had requested. Nobody was talking to him. You cannot issue traffic warnings to a pilot who is not communicating with you. You have to reach the pilot first and the Teterboro controller – as is accurately made clear in the NTSB press release – tried twice, to no avail.”

Added NATCA president Patrick Forrey: “Let me make this as clear as I can: our air traffic controller at Teterboro did his job. We believe he is not responsible for contributing to this tragic accident and there is nothing he could have done to prevent it from happening. We respect the NTSB, and we value our participation in NTSB investigations. But in this case, the NTSB has completely ignored our input, painted an unrealistic view of the job description of a Teterboro controller, and fueled a public feeding frenzy that unfairly blames this particular Teterboro controller for not acting to stop the sequence of events that led to the crash.

“We respectfully ask that the NTSB immediately act to stop this rush to judgment that this controller had anything to do with the crash until the board’s full investigation is complete. An immediate correction of the flawed press release would be an appropriate first step.”