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    NTSB places blame in crash

    A pilot and two air traffic controllers are faulted in a runway collision that killed four.

    By JEAN HELLER and JOHN BALZ

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001


    WASHINGTON -- The National Transportation Safety Board has blamed a pilot and two air traffic controllers for the runway collision last March of two Cessna aircraft at Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. Four people died in the fiery crash.

    The NTSB determined Wednesday that two controllers failed to keep the two planes, which were on the same runway, far enough apart. The agency also determined that the pilot of a four-seat Cessna 172 failed to be sure the runway was clear of other traffic before taxiing onto the strip.

    Even when a pilot is cleared into takeoff position on a runway, which the 172 was, it is his responsibility to make sure his movement will not interfere with another aircraft's operation.

    The 172 entered the 7,000-foot runway 14 from a taxiway intersection about 1,200 feet up from the beginning of the strip, moving into the path of a two-seat Cessna 152, which was in the process of taking off.

    The 152 had started its takeoff roll at the beginning of the strip and was about 1,000 feet down the runway, 200 feet from the 172, when the larger aircraft moved in front of it.

    The pilot of the 152 tried to take off to avoid a collision and got airborne for several seconds before diving into the 172. The two men aboard the 172 were killed along with the flight instructor and student pilot aboard the 152.

    The NTSB recommended to the Federal Aviation Administration procedural changes to improve safety on the ground. The NTSB has the authority to make safety recommendations, but only the FAA can implement them.

    Runway collisions are on the NTSB's top 10 list of aviation priorities. Since 1972 more than a hundred safety recommendations have been made. In 1991, the NTSB urged the FAA to develop a system for air traffic controllers to alert pilots to impending collisions. Board members fretted that their advice would again go unheeded.

    "For the board to see rather ineffective measures being painfully and slowly administered is really frustrating to all of us," said NTSB board member George W. Black Jr. "I'm afraid (a collision) is the next major accident. It's only a matter of time."

    The NTSB recommended that the FAA amend its regulations to require that each time a pilot and a controller communicate, they confirm the plane's position at the airport, and that when takeoffs are starting at different points along the same runway, controllers state each plane's position.

    The measures would help inform pilots about other pilots' positions, as well as ensuring that controllers have accurate information.

    The board said it would also consider later a recommendation that controllers tell pilots from what point on the runway they should take off, rather than letting the pilots make the decision.

    The accident killed Lori Bahrenburg, a flight instructor aboard the 152, and student pilot Charles Heffner. The occupants of the 172 were Julius Taubman and David Mouckley. It was not known who was in control of the 172 when the accident occurred.

    A ground controller and a local controller at Sarasota were placed on leave after the accident, and one of them was later reassigned. Neither controller was identified. Ground controllers handle taxi clearance, and local controllers handle takeoff clearance.

    Procedures at Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport for directing ground traffic have been modified.

    "Somehow, especially for runway problems, we need to redouble our efforts," said NTSB member John Goglia. "We have very crowded airspace in this country, we have very busy air traffic controllers and ... I hope we can get the attention of all the decisionmakers in the process so we can put procedures in place to mitigate the risk and not have to do this again."

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