Terror in the US Skies

Harmless Glitch or Internal Security Breach?

27 August 2004: As we reported earlier, air traffic controllers lost radio contact with hundreds of airplanes in-flight on Tuesday over the western portion of the US. As a result, there were five “close calls” involving planes in-flight and at least two near-mid-air collisions, according to air traffic controllers. One involved a UPS flight en route from Louisville Kentucky to Orange County, California, and another involved a Boeing 757 passenger jet headed to San Diego from Detroit.

The incidents occurred shortly after controllers lost radio contact with at least 400 aircraft traveling to and from airports in the western US. Authorities stated that a computer unexpectedly shut down because technicians “forgot” to service the computer as required every 30 days and as they did not “purge the hard drive,” the computer overloaded.

Interestingly, the backup system also failed, reportedly stopping radio transmissions to pilots in mid-sentence. Controllers describe the next 13 minutes as “chaos,” as some planes began to converge. Hamid Ghaffari, local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association told The Associated Press three workers filed injury claims, saying they were traumatized by seeing flights veer toward one another on radar without being able to do anything.