Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman, said Friday that the agency will look into the actions of an air traffic controller who issued incorrect orders and the pilots of EVA Air Flight 15 that took off to the east from LAX on Dec. 16 early in the morning.
Holloway said the investigation will include evaluations of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder of the Boeing 777, a wide-body jet that was carrying 353 passengers and crew during the mishap.
Though obligated to obey instructions from air traffic control, federal regulations also state that the pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of their aircraft.
Holloway said the investigation will determine whether there are safety problems that need to be addressed.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the incident began about 1:30 am when the controller mistakenly ordered the flight to turn left to the north after the pilot shifted air traffic control responsibilities from the LAX tower to approach control in San Diego, a common practice.
The standard procedure for eastern departures from the southern runways at LAX is to make a right turn to the south after takeoff and then head toward the ocean.
FAA officials said the incorrect order sent the Taiwan-bound airliner across the flight path of a departing Air Canada passenger jet and toward the San Gabriel Mountains.
When the controller realized the EVA flight had turned in the wrong direction, FAA officials said, she took immediate action to keep the EVA Air and Air Canada flights safely separated.
The controller then turned her attention to getting the EVA pilot to turn south and repeatedly ordered him to do so until he finally complied, according to recorded radio transmissions. At one point, the controller said, “EVA 15 what are you doing? Turn southbound now!”
The Boeing 777 appeared to clear the 5,713-foot peak of Mt. Wilson by 500 to 800 feet. However, broadcast towers along the summit rise anywhere from several hundred feet to almost 1,000 feet in the air. Solar towers at the nearby Mt. Wilson Observatory are 60 and 150 feet high.
EVA officials have said the airline is cooperating with federal investigators and that their passenger jet was never too close to the mountains or other aircraft. The FAA also is looking into the incident.
(Dan Weikel - Los Angeles Times)