The air traffic controller who put a USAir jet and a commuter plane on a deadly course testified that she had been distracted by another aircraft and that glare hampered her view of the runway.
Thirty-four people died when the USAir Boeing 737 landed on top of the SkyWest Metro-liner Feb. 1 at Los Angeles International Airport."I realized something went wrong," controller Robin Lee Wascher, 38, told National Transportation Safety Board officials Tuesday.
She said she confused one plane with another and thought the commuter plane had been blocked from the runway. She also said that she was distracted by another plane and that glare made it hard to see.
Asked if the crash's cause was her mistaken aircraft identification, Wascher replied evenly, "Yes, it is."
Also Tuesday, the surviving pilot described his terror in the burning jet.
"I heard two groans from Captain Shaw. I've never been around a person who was dying. I'm positive what I heard was his death," First Officer David T. Kelley said.
The NTSB is not expected to issue a finding on the cause of the crash for several months.
Speaking calmly and slowly, Wascher said she told the departing SkyWest plane to taxi up to, but hold short of, Runway 24-Left. She then saw a Southwest Airlines jet block a Metroliner from reaching the runway, and thought the latter plane was the SkyWest plane.
She then cleared USAir Flight 1493 to land on Runway 24-Left.
In fact, the blocked aircraft was a Wings West commuter flight and the SkyWest plane was already on the runway, holding for takeoff.
Wascher said she was distracted when an unknown plane called in and she had to ask a supervisor help her determine who it was, where it was and what it wanted to do.
Kelley said he was at the controls and Capt. Colin F. Shaw was handling communications when the jet descended just after nightfall.
"Just as I lowered the nose to the runway . . . coming in my windscreen were the silhouettes of two props, quickly, rapidly, a split second after the nose wheel touched the ground," Kelley said.
The jet slammed into the commuter plane. Kelly said he heard an explosion and the sound of crunching metal.