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Fatal Florida crashes show air traffic controllers lack proper training, report says

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two fatal Florida plane crashes, along with several others, were cited in a major report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Air traffic controllers’ lack of training and experience dealing with aircraft in distress were causes or contributing factors in the five fatal crashes covered by the report, the NTSB said.

“The NTSB concludes that, based on the accidents discussed above, the current training provided to air traffic controllers is not effective in preparing them to provide appropriate assistance to aircraft in distress,” the report said.

The report cited a Jan. 13, 2015, fatal crash in New Smyrna Beach as part of the NTSB investigation.

The crash involved a single-engine Cessna that went down after the pilot told air traffic control she was having difficulty flying by sight.

Instead of instructing the pilot to an airport with better visibility, air traffic controllers instructed her to turn to land at New Smyrna Beach Airport.

Conditions at New Smyrna Beach Airport at the time required pilots to maneuver mainly via their instrument panel, the report said.

Not providing the pilot with assistance flying by instruments was a contributing factor in the crash, the NTSB said.

The other fatal Florida crash cited in the report was a fiery crash on Jan. 4, 2013, when a pilot crashed into a home while trying to land at Flagler County Airport in Palm Coast.

The pilot had contacted air traffic controllers saying he was having engine trouble, but had in fact lost all power, the report said.

Although the plane was almost directly over the airport, the air traffic controller directed the plane away and it crashed a mile short of the runway, the report said.

The controllers were operating under the assumption that the plane had at least partial power, it said.

While the pilot did not say the plane had lost all power, the air traffic controllers should have recognized a potential emergency and obtained more specific information from the pilot, the NTSB said.

The pilot and two passengers died in the crash.

Other crashes cited in the report included an April 11, 2014, crash in Hugheston, West Virginia, that killed two; a Dec. 16, 2012, crash in Parkton, North Carolina, that killed the pilot; and an Aug. 11, 2012, crash in Effingham, South Carolina, that left the pilot and a passenger uninjured but seriously damaged their aircraft.

The report recommended two steps for the Federal Aviation Administration to take that would potentially remedy the training deficiencies of air traffic controllers.

The first was for the FAA to require ongoing national scenario-based training for air traffic controllers that would teach them how to identify and respond to emergency situations.

The second recommendation called for the FAA to revise required air traffic controller training with reference to “current and relevant” emergency scenarios from recent events.

The recommendations are not binding and it is up to the FAA to decide if they will be implemented completely or in part.