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Alaska Air 737, cargo plane have 'near miss' over Fire Island

Suzanna Caldwell

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet and a smaller cargo plane came within a quarter mile of each other in a “near miss” Tuesday above Fire Island, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency charged with investigating the incident.

Alaska Flight 135, inbound from Portland, Ore., was about to land at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport at 3:08 p.m. on Runway 15, running north-south, when the pilot was instructed by Anchorage air traffic controllers to initiate a “go-around” to avoid an outbound Ace Air Cargo Beechcraft 1900 headed to Sand Point, according to NTSB spokesman Clint Johnson.

As the Alaska Airlines jet carrying 143 passengers and five crew members veered to the right, the Beechcraft also became airborne and veered the same direction, coming within a quarter-mile of the jet at the same elevation above Fire Island, several miles southwest of the airport runway.

The close proximity of the aircraft was enough for the agency to count the incident as a “near miss.” Johnson said the aircraft were so close at least one pilot spotted the other plane.

Johnson said a “go-around” is a standard procedure to give aircraft more separation near the airport.

The Alaska Airlines jet landed without incident. Johnson said the NTSB is just beginning its investigation, headed by a senior air traffic control specialist based in Washington, D.C. The agency will review data from both the Anchorage control tower and the two aircraft involved.

Todd Erickson, Ace Air Cargo’s chief pilot, said the Ace aircraft was aware of the situation and in contact with the control tower the entire time.

"There was no danger," Erickson said. "Once Alaska Airlines radioed they had the 1900 in sight, our crew had no cause for concern."

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said Boeing 737 aircraft are equipped with collision avoidance systems, which assist crews in identifying and avoiding other aircraft. She said the system did alert the crew of the proximity of the other aircraft, which prompted the pilots to increase altitude.

Egan said the airline plans to work with the NTSB during the course of the investigation.