Report: Aircraft Carrying Michelle Obama Aborts Landing After Controller Mistake

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Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Air Force One arrives at Andrews Air Force Base January 26, 2011 in Camp Springs, Maryland

In the latest of several mishaps concerning Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, a plane with First Lady Michelle Obama on board came “dangerously close” to a collision with a military cargo jet, forcing the White House aircraft to abort its landing at Joint Base Andrews.

The Washington Post reported on its website Tuesday that the First Lady was returning from New York when an air traffic controller error took place as the plane was on its final approach. Andrews tower personnel realized the two aircraft were far too close when the controller at the Warrenton radar control center handed off monitoring responsibilities for the two planes to another controller.

(More on NewsFeed: See a recent history of air traffic control mistakes)

They ordered a series of maneuvers intended to create enough distance between the planes before the cargo jet could take off, but it wasn’t enough; subsequently, Obama’s plane was told to abort the landing and circle the base, but later landed safely.

The wake of an airplane after it takes flight can cause severe turbulence and the FAA requires 5 miles of distance between it and the next airplane.  A discrepancy between radar equipment and a controller in the air-traffic controller handoff showed the two planes between 3.08 and 4 miles apart. A subsequent alert went out warning of wake turbulence.

The incident comes after a string of controversies in which air traffic controllers were caught sleeping at other airports. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that he will put a stop to the problem of air traffic controller fatigue.

(More on NewsFeed: Is air traffic control out of control?)