CRASH WAS CONTROLLER'S FAULT, EXPERT SAYS
COLLISION: TRIAL WITNESS SAYS AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER HAD CLEAR VIEW, TIME TO AVERT '87 KEARNS DISASTER.An air traffic control expert testified Monday that controller Mike Dawson had ample time to see the Mooney aircraft and alert the SkyWest metroliner of its presence before the two planes collided over the skies of Kearns on Jan. 15, 1987, killing 10 people.
After viewing radar tapes in court, Dean Stromwall pointed out that the Mooney probably appeared on Dawson's screen 10 minutes before the accident and was clear and unobscured for almost a minute before the collision."My opinion is that the controller had ample opportunity to see the Mooney and issue traffic advisories to craft in the area of the Mooney," Stromwall said.
Dawson and other controllers have testified that although the Mooney appeared on radar tapes, they did not see it on their radar screens in the moments before the collision.
Stromwall disagreed. "I firmly believe it was there the whole time," Stromwall said of the Mooney's presence on Dawson's radar screen.
Dawson has also testified that he was very busy in the 1 1/2 minutes before the collision dealing with other planes and didn't have time to issue traffic advisories to his planes about other planes in their vicinity.
Stromwall challenged that contention Monday, saying, "Handling six airplanes is not a busy load by any means. It's not even a moderate load."
Had Dawson truly been so busy he couldn't guard the safety of the planes for which he was responsible, he should have asked for available help, Stromwall said.
Dawson did not.
Stromwall also criticized Dawson's directions to SkyWest 834 in the minute before the metroliner collided with the Mooney. He noted 80 percent of Dawson's transmissions in the minute before the collision were made to SkyWest 834.
"About half of those were necessary transmissions. About half of them weren't," he said. The unnecessary ones distracted the SkyWest pilots.
Stromwall further testified that Dawson's landing instructions to SkyWest 834 turned the plane into the path of the Mooney, causing the collision.
"He vectored the aircraft dead into the Mooney," Stromwall said.
If Dawson had left SkyWest on its 150 degree heading, the metroliner would have missed the Mooney. In the seconds before the crash, Dawson directed the metroliner to turn to 070 degrees, then to 050 degrees then to 360 degrees in preparation for its final approach to the airport.
As SkyWest 834 banked left to comply with Dawson's directive to turn to 070 degrees, it collided with the Mooney, the plaintiffs' lawyers maintain.
Stromwall said that Dawson had a critical responsibility to look at his screen and make sure there were no planes in the vicinity of SkyWest 834 before instructing the plane to change its direction.
"He had ample time to do all the things required of him and he should have," Dawson said.
Attorneys for widows of the four pilots killed in the collision are suing the federal government, saying air traffic control on the day of the collision was negligent. The trial - in its second week - is being held in U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene's court.
Stromwall worked 31 years as an air traffic controller before his recent retirement. He served an extensive tour as an air traffic controller in Saigon during the Vietnam War and supervised and trained controllers during his career.