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Feds Probe Claim Of Near-Miss Between Passenger Jets; Could Have Been Worst-Ever Air Disaster

by Carlos E. Castañeda
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A United Airlines 757 in flight after takeoff from San Francisco International Airport. (AP file photo)

A United Airlines 757 in flight after takeoff from San Francisco International Airport. (AP file photo)

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(CBS SF) — The Federal Aviation Administration is checking the story of a San Francisco writer who claims his flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles was nearly involved in a mid-air collision with another passenger jet last month, one that could have been the worst aviation disaster ever.

Kevin Townsend wrote in an essay his United Airlines flight 1205 pitched into a steep dive at 33,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean to avoid hitting a US Airways flight.

He told KPIX 5 the collision happened on his way home from his Hawaiian vacation.

“It was a really violent, scary experience,” he said. “It felt like the plane had gone dead in the air and started dropping.”

In his essay, Townsend wrote:

‘I felt my body float upwards and strain against my seatbelt. Passengers around me screamed. There was a loud crash in the back - a coffeepot clattering to the floor and tumbling down the aisle.’ 

A flight attendant told passengers over the speakers “the pilot had taken evasive action to avoid an aircraft in our flight path,” according to the account.

Townsend said he confirmed the near-miss upon landing at LAX after speaking with members of the United flight crew, which prompted him to continue researching the incident.

He said he determined the combined number of passengers between the two flights (590)  would have made it the deadliest crash in aviation history, ahead of the Tenerife Airport crash of two Boeing 747s which killed 583 people.

Townsend also claimed that without the basic information he provided to authorities after researching the incident, the FAA would not have followed up with an investigation, and such events prove the industry is in need of more oversight.

The FAA declined to comment on the near-collision, but said in a statement it will investigate and try to prevent it from happening again.

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