The ATC was NOT Doing Traffic Count after he Cleared Comair 5191 for Takeoff
" ... The FAA ALWAYS says safety is their number one concern. If that was true, they wouldn't have hired one of my co-workers after he had been busted twice in the US Navy for trafficking in drugs. ... "
By James Bergquist, Air Safety Activist
The FAA has told us that the lone controller at Lexington tower turned his back on Comair 191 and was busy with "administrative duties, traffic count" after he cleared Comair191 for takeoff while it was on the wrong runway. Initially, he admitted seeing Comair on the wrong runway and later changed his testimony.
The FAA released the tapes the other day and I downloaded it from their site at....
If you download the ATC Communications audio (MP3) tape there and play it, you can hear Diane English, an FAA employee, say she made the tape from 0944 Coordinated Universal Time - 1026 Coordinated Universal Time on August 27, 2006. The accident occurred at 1006 Coordinated Universal Time.
If you want to understand what happened, download the tape and play it while you read the following information....
At 06:52 into the tape, Comair 191 calls clearance delivery for his clearance to Atlanta.
Christopher Damron, operating initials CD, the lone controller, was working four positions. (1) Flight data/clearance delivery(FD/CD) where he had to contact center and transmit clearances to aircraft on one frequency, (2) Ground Control (GC) where he had to issue taxi clearance and watch taxiing aircraft on ramp and taxiways on another frequency, Local Control (LC) where he had to watch aircraft on the runway and in the traffic pattern in the control zone out to five mile radius on a third frequency, and Radar Departure Control (DC) where he had to give heading to fly for arrivals and departures below 10,000 ft. on a fourth frequency. This is not too much to handle if things fall in a staggered sequence, but when you get busy, someone has to wait. You can't talk on four frequencies at once or talk to ten aircraft at once. In the business, it's called going "Down the tubes". During the day, all these positions are manned and in addition the local control position can be split between two controllers. There is a supervisor and cab coordinator (CC) also who monitor all positions to insure safe operations. I have a photo I took a LGB where you can see ten controllers in the tower cab.
As you listen to the tape, you will see that CD doesn't have a lot of time to catch his breath in the minutes before Comair is cleared for takeoff. After that, he has nothing to do. He let his guard down. These times show it to some degrees but his transmissions are sometimes lengthy and there is little time between each transmission.
At 06:58, CD issues Comair his clearance to ATL and..
At. 07:12 Comair reads back the clearance and admits he missed his arrival route into ATL. CD had to spell it out for him.
At 13:30 CD makes a blanket broadcast that the ATIS has changed to Bravo and the new altimeter setting is 30.00.
At 13:54, the controller, operating initials Charley Delta, calls ARTCC. He doesn't key his microphone while dialing (old rotary pulse phone) but has to key in to talk to center at 13:58. That is when you hear CD breathing and the music in the background from the radio. He unkeys his mike at 14:05 and the music can no longer be heard. We hear it again at 14:09 when he keys in. ARTCC hasn't come up on the line so the music can only be in the tower cab. At 14:08, ARTCC comes on the line and CD requests a release on Skywest 6819. Center releases him and CD gives his initials and hangs up at 14:12. The music stops at that time.
At 16:04 into the tape, Comair 191 advises he is about to push back.
At 16:09, ATC responds Roger, advise ready for taxi.
At 16:11, Comair says Roger.
At 16:32 into the tape, Eagleflight 882 calls for taxi and at 16:43 he taxis him to RWY22.
At 17:26, Skywest 6819 calls for takeoff clearance at RWY22
At 17:30, ATC says Thanks, turn right heading 270, Runway 22, cleared for takeoff. Since there was only one active runway, it is not required that ATC specify the runway when issuing takeoff clearance.
At 17:35, Skywest 6819 acknowledges cleared for takeoff.
At 18:33, Eagle 882 calls ready for departure
At 18:36, ATC replies, Eagle 882, roger, hold short.
At 18:40, Eagle 882 acknowledges, Hold short of the runway.
At 18:57, Comair 191 advises he is ready for taxi instructions and states that he has Alpha. At 13:30 the ATIS changed to Bravo and he was not aware that the ATIS had changed .This means he has listened to the Airport Terminal Information Service (ATIS) on a separate frequency which gives him the active runway, winds, altimeter setting, and other NOTAMS (Notice To Airman) about taxiway closures, instrument approach outages, lights out of service, etc. You can also hear it on the phone, as well. In the government pages of the white pages, it's under Transportation, Department of, FAA, ATIS. To his credit, CD caught this and re-issued and winds and altimeter to Comair.
At 19:02, Comair 191 acknowledges that he is to taxi to rwy 22.
At 19:09, CD clears Eagle 882 for takeoff
At 19:11 CD calls radar contact on Skywest 6819 and gives him further instrutions.
At 20:27, CD calls radar contact on Eagle 882 and gives clearance to 10,000FT.
At 20:48 CD goes on the land line and dials center (ARTCC).
At 20:55 CD again keys his mike and we hear the music. While waiting for center, Skywest 6819 can be heard on the speaker in the background saying he is passing 10,000ft.and requesting a turn to 300 degrees to avoid weather. CD approves his request and immediately center comes on the line and CD request a release on Comair. He had to be watching Comair approaching the approach end of the short runway because he call for the release in advance of him arriving at runway 22.
At 21:09 CD keys his mike and again we hear the music and hear him tapping the flight progress strip for Comair191 on the console. He asked center for a release on Comair and center issues the release, CD gives his initials and hangs up the line.
He immediately calls another sector and requests the 300 heading for Skywest 6819 to "get around some weather", but he had already approved the turn for Skywest.
At 21:19, CD tells Skywest 6819 to contact center.
At 21:23 Skywest acknowledges the frequency change.
At 21:25 CD gives Eagle 882 a new heading
At 21:30 Eagle882 acknowledges the turn.
At 22:07 Comair 121 transmits that he is ready to go.
At 22:10 CD says Comair 191, Lexington Tower, fly runway heading, cleared for takeoff.
If Comair 191 is at the approach end of the wrong runway, he is nowhere near runway 22. In an interview CD acknowledges that he saw Comair 191 on the wrong runway and NOT on the taxiway to runway 22, but 30 minutes later changed his testimony.
At 22:14 Comair acknowledged fly runway heading, cleared for takeoff.
CD immediately focuses back on Eagle 882 and ...
At 22:17 CD asked Eagle 882 if the heading he gave him worked for him or did he want a further turn to the northwest of the weather that's ahead of him.
At 22:23 Eagle 882 says "That looks fantastic, thank you very much"
At 22:25 CD transmits "Say again, please" to Eagle 882, while Comair is rolling on the wrong runway. He is NOT doing traffic count as the FAA is telling us.
At 22:26, Eagle882 repeats "This heading looks great,
At 22:30, CD is probably looking at the radar scope as he is talking to Eagle 882 and giving him a frequency change to center.
This is 16 seconds after he cleared Comair for takeoff and he hasn't seen him rolling on the wrong runway. He was supposed to scan his runway when he cleared him for takeoff and should have noticed him on the wrong runway. He claimed he did see him on the wrong runway but said nothing to him and didn't cancel his takeoff clearance.
It's odd that a station agent for American Eagle saw Comair on the wrong runway, but the controller claims he saw nothing,..... eventually.
In this second article, it states....
Damron told investigators that he did not know the plane had taken off from the wrong runway until a union official, who had reviewed radar data, told him. If Comair would have taken off on the right runway, he would have contacted tower on departure and CD would have issued radar contact. CD should have been at the radar scope waiting for Comairs call instead of doing the traffic count.
According to the other tape I downloaded at the FAA site at...
ATC Phone Call to Fire and Rescue audio (MP3)*
CD pulled the crash phone and reported the aircraft crash, (an Alert III ) at 06:29 into the tape.
Again, the crash phone recording was narrated by Diane English. The tape runs from 1002 CUT-1013CUT on August 27, 2006
That means that CD pulls the hook at 1008:30 CUT. That is about 2 1/2 minutes after the crash. Traffic count doesn't take 2 1/2 minutes to perform. The accident occurred at about 1006 CUT. CD had to be doing something else for that other two minutes. What could he have been doing for all that time? Maybe he took the clipboard over to the radio to change stations. He wouldn't have gone to the bathroom when he was expecting a call from Comair.
He tells the crash crew that the aircraft is off the approach end of runway 8. That is the departure end of runway 26. 80 plus 180 degrees is 260, BUT then he tells the crash crew the aircraft took off of runway 22. I can't understand how he thought Comair took off runway 22 and ended up off the departure end of runway 26. If he took off of 22, he would have had to go off the right side of runway 22 before he got halfway down the runway.
If there would have been a second controller working the radar scope, CD could have been watching his runway a lot closer, but that is no excuse when the runway is the primary responsibility. CD wasn't focusing on his primary responsibility, the runway, but let his attention focus in the wrong direction dealing with radar traffic in the air. Traffic count had nothing to do with this accident.
CD had three departures in a short period of time with a lot of coordination with ARTCC. He is listening to music in the background. If he did the traffic count when he was finished talking with Eagle882, Comair was at the departure end of runway 26 or colliding into the trees off the departure end. Comair crashed before he started the traffic count. He should have seen it happening. CD should have been watching his runway. Aircraft in the air pose little threat to safety compared to ones on the runway.
CD never did tell us why he wasn't looking at the radar scope and telling Comair that he had radar contact on him. He should have been wondering why no radar target showed up at the departure end on runway 22. The traffic count scenario is just smoke and mirrors.
Today, I read an article about the FAA refusing to have weather band radios in the control towers siting it would be a distration. Here's the article....
According to a spokeswoman from the FAA, the decision to pull the radios seeks to limit distractions for controllers and ensure safe operation of the airspace.
We had a radio with a cd player in the tower cab at MYF and we used to bring our own cd's to work and listen to them while working traffic. Once at LGB tower, we had a portable TV in the tower cab watching a football game and I forgot to take it home when the tower closed. The next morning, the chief saw it and demanded to know who's it was. I confessed and he chewed my butt until I promised him it would never happen again.
Traffic count should be done on the hour and is a secondary function. The crash occurred at about 6 minutes after the hour. Six minutes prior to the accident, CD was busy with Eagle882 ready for departure. Traffic count is not important. CD had three departures and all he had to do was write down 0-2-0-0-0 on a clipboard to complete the traffic count, Takes all of two seconds. Comair was on the wrong runway for close to 25 seconds.
Here is some inside information for the layman, you don't have to turn your back on the runway to do traffic count. You read the numbers off the counter in front of you and put them on a clipboard, again, in front of you. He should have been watching his radar scope when Comair was no longer on the runway, again in front of him. There is NO reason to turn your back.
The pilot and first officer were given toxicology tests after the crash but I have never heard of a controller being tested for drugs or alcohol following and accident or incident. We hear of the TSA people reporting pilots when they smell alcohol on their breath and they have been pulled off of airliners and registered massive amounts of alcohol in their systems.
Since the 70's, control towers that used to be above the terminals were moved across the airport and the public never came in contact with us if we didn't want them around. At Christmas, pilots used to drop off gifts for us, it's an old tradition. We got candy and cookies, but the main item offered to us was booze, and lots of it. Why would you want to give your controller a bottle of scotch, I never understood it. When I tell people about all the drugs being used on the job, the number one response I get is "Well, it's a really stressful job, isn't it?" I guess they feel if you are in a stressful job, you ought to be able to shoot up a little heroin now and then.
The FAA knows that the public knows nothing about the functions of a control tower and it is easy to "hoodwink" the masses. Now you know the truth.
I came across a letter to AvWeb from a controller claiming things are worse now than when I blew the whistle. AvWeb has been able to confirm her identity. Her letter is at ....
I have been at this for close to 20 years now. Who is looking out for the safety of the flying public? The FAA ALWAYS says safety is their number one concern. If that was true, they wouldn't have hired one of my co-workers after he had been busted twice in the US Navy for trafficking in drugs. And another who would come to work drunk once a week. They would not have hired me when they knew I had vision problems. But they fired me when I had seen it all too many times and told my chief we were getting tipped off about random drug testing and over half of us were using on the job. He was the one who tipped us off the day before the drug team arrived so we could switch shifts with a non-using controller, if we could find one. And the guy who the chief told was the guy who was dealing all the drugs.
I have played tapes of telephone calls with my co-workers where they admit knowledge of druguse on the job to my Congressman, Duncan Hunter, and to the press in San Diego. Nothing is done. I have sent the tapes to the Aviation Subcommittee of Congress and to the White House. Nothing is done.
Who is going to stop this from happening again and again. We have been ignored, attacked, and accused of having our own agenda by the press, government officials, and family members of such tragedies as TW800, Swissair111, Egyptair990, and ValuJet 592. Now one of the Comair191 family members has asked me to remove him from my mailing list.
We are the head wiring experts from Boeing and the Dept. of Defense, airline pilots, two FAA lead airline inspectors, an FAA security expert who reported problems at Boston Logan and resigned after the FAA cooked his reports (before 9/11), an airline mechanic, and the inventor of the smoke hood for airline cockpits. Everyone talks about wanting to make sure nothing like this happens again, but when we give them what they need to do something about it, it's "shoot the messenger".
The press could report these crimes, but they refuse to let the people know the truth in our land of the free. I have told reporters that if they get this story past their editor, the next big story they will be working on is the bear problem at the dump. How can our President say people are jealous of our freedom?
Now YOU know the truth about what happened to Comair191. The NTSB final report will say that the controller had his back turned away from the runway and nothing more. If you don't believe me, look at how the NTSB covered up the crash of VJ592 and screwed over the families there. You can read all about it on my website at....
The Congress won't let me testify because they can't have everyone knowing the real story about aviation safety and the way they are watching over the system. We will just have to hear about more innocent people dying by the hundreds over and over again. I will be wasting my time for decades to come.
Air Safety Activist
Former USAF and FAA air traffic controller
Former San Diego Country NATCA representative