Planes fly too close near Kona

A United Airlines plane takes a dive towards the Pacific Ocean while passengers scream in fear.

That’s how one passenger on board the Boeing 757 described the flight after it departed the Big Island and flew too close to another plane.

Investigators with the FAA and the NTSB arrived in Hawaii today to find out what happened on that flight three weeks ago.

“Turmoil, noise, all the tray tables rattling, it was a really scary and violent experience,” said Kevin Townsend, passenger.

That’s what happened about half an hour after his United Airlines flight departed Kona, heading for Los Angeles. He said the pilot told passengers that a US Airways plane was flying towards them, at the same altitude.

The FAA confirmed, the TCAS aboard the flight, went off. The TCAS alerts pilots to potential conflicts and might tell them what to do next.

In this case, the United flight that Townsend was on, dropped 600 feet to avoid a collision.

“It felt kind of like the plane had just gone dead in the air and started dropping,” he said.

I talked to aviation analyst Peter Forman about this incident and he stressed the importance of the TCAS.

“These devices on the planes talk to each other and ensure that the airplanes keep vertical separation, which is key to keeping passengers safe,” Forman said.

“Is an event like this uncommon?” KHON2 asked.

“It doesn’t happen too often that the instrumentation causes one of the airplanes to have to descend or climb,” he said.

In a statement, KHON2 was told “the FAA began investigating the incident immediately and has taken steps to prevent a recurrence.”

As for Townsend, this experience may have rattled his nerves, but it will not keep him grounded.

“I’m not hesitant to get on a plane again at all. I don’t think anyone should be for this,” Townsend said.

Experts say planes can have a vertical clearance of 1,000 feet. Anything less, and the TCAS will alert pilots of a potentially dangerous situation.

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