A San Francisco-based writer who flew from Hawaii to California last month says he and hundreds of other passengers almost died when their flight nearly collided with another passenger jet over the Pacific Ocean.
Kevin Townsend, in an essay on Medium, described the moment his plane suddenly dove 6oo feet without any warning.
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"Thirty-three thousand feet up in a cloudless sky, our plane had suddenly pitched into a steep dive. I felt my body float upwards and strain against my seatbelt. Passengers around me screamed," he wrote.
It was over after a few seconds, Townsend said.
A flight attendant came on the loudspeaker and said "OK. That was obviously unexpected." A moment later, she returned to explain that "the pilot took evasive action to avoid an aircraft in our flight path."
Passengers were notified that they would receive free DirecTV for the remainder of the flight. The flight made it to Los Angeles without any further incident.
Townsend, however, couldn't shake off the experience. He talked with the flight crew and spent the following two weeks calling airline officials and the Federal Aviation Administration.
He learned that shortly after reaching a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, the plane's collision alert system sounded an alarm. The United Boeing 757 was headed straight towards a US Airways flight over the Pacific.
After the alarm sounded, the pilot of United 1205 looked out the windshield, saw the other plane and immediately took a sharp dive, Townsend said. The first officer told Townsend that the other plane was "certainly too close for comfort."
Townsend explains that it is particularly unsettling that the pilot was able to see the other plane. The United flight was moving at 600 mph. Two planes coming at each other at that speed could close a distance of five miles in 15 seconds, Townsend wrote.
There were approximately 295 people on the plane, including the flight crew. Assuming that the US Airways flight was a passenger jet of approximately the same size, Townsend estimates that a total of 590 people would have died if the crash were not averted, making it the deadliest crash in aviation history.
After his research, Townsend says he believes there is not enough oversight to ensure passenger safety in the air. United Airlines was investigating the incident internally, but Townsend says that the FAA was not immediately made aware of the incident.
"The FAA is the only regulatory body with the authority to turn lessons of a near catastrophe into improvements in policy, procedure, or training," Townsend wrote. "Yet, the FAA is in the dark on a near miss that could have taken more lives than any air accident in history."
ABC News reports that the FAA's Pacific Division issued a statement saying it is investigating the incident.
"A joint FAA-NTSB investigation team will arrive at the Honolulu Control Facility today. The FAA began investigating the incident immediately and has taken steps to prevent a recurrence," the statement said.