Near air crash in Trinidad

A JetBlue Airbus
FILE – A JetBlue Airbus flies over a pair of Southwest Airlines’ jets from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., bound for New York’s JFK airport, July 19, 2005.
Associated Press/Reed Saxon, File

The aviation world in Trinidad has been severely shaken up by an incident on Sunday when two incoming airlines which were preparing to land came within 75 feet of a bizarre mid-air collision, officials said.

The crew of JetBlue Airways flight 1817 said they were forced to take emergency crash avoidance measures as a Caribbean Airlines plane flying at 4,225 feet-just 75 feet higher- was approaching it almost directly in Jet Blue’s cross path which was 4,150 feet. Both planes were arriving from New York.

The leading Guardian newspaper Wednesday reported that the near disaster had much to do with the non-functioning radar system at the Piarco International Airport as controllers were unable to see, properly track and separate the altitude of the planes as they flew in the country’s airspace in the southwestern Gulf of Paria between Trinidad and Venezuela.

The system has been down for several weeks with authorities saying that they await the arrival of key parts from the manufacturer in Italy.

The paper stated that a full investigation has been launched to determine the root cause of the incident even as the Civil Aviation Authority has admitted that the lifeline radar system is down.

“The TTCAA confirms that there was a traffic incident which is being investigated by the TTCAA. We further confirm that the radar system was out of service at the time of the incident. The TTCAA wishes to assure you and the public that all air traffic controllers are trained and qualified to provide safe and reliable air navigation services in the absence of radar equipment,” Director General Francis Regis told the publication.

Aviation buffs globally have turned to international monitoring sites such as Flight Radar 24 and others to see the altitude and flight paths of both airlines. Local newspapers have also carried maps showing how extremely close the planes came to a side on collision.

In the absence of electronic radar, pilots use two-way radio and other systems to broadcast their speed, altitude and direction to traffic controllers and other aircraft flying nearby. Planes also have in-built traffic collision avoidance systems to alert them to nearby flying objects. After the confusion, JetBlue was allowed to land ahead of Caribbean officials said.