The three US Airways Express planes that were reportedly involved in a near-miss incident at Washington's Reagan National Airport were in no danger of colliding, federal transportation officials said this afternoon.
The Washington Post reported earlier that the planes, carrying a total of 192 passengers and crew members, came within 12 seconds of a mid-air collision.
The incident occurred Tuesday at about 2 p.m. when air traffic controllers put two departing commuter jets alarmingly close to a third plane that was set to land, according to The Post. All the flights reached their destination without mishap.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today said the planes were never on course for a "head-to-head" collision.
He singled out a controller who jumped in when she realized there was a loss of separation among the planes. "The controller did what she was trained to do and we are very proud of her," he said.
Michael Huerta, the acting federal aviation administrator, added that all three of the planes are equipped with collision-avoidance technology that never sounded an alarm during the flights.
An ABC News employee on the flight that took off to the north while another flight was preparing to land to the south observed nothing out of the ordinary and said the takeoff and subsequent flight were normal.
The airline said it is working with the FAA to determine what happened.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement today that it will "investigate the air-traffic-control incident at Reagan National Airport on July 31. It will involve review of communications recordings and radar data, as well as interviews with supervisors and controllers at DCA and Potomac TRACON over the next few days."
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said safety is its top priority. "We are always looking to enhance the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System, and we will participate in any investigation that looks into improving the system," the controllers' union said in a statement.
According to the Post, an air traffic control official at Reagan National was heard asking the pilot of the inbound flight, "Are you with me?"
"We were cleared at the river there, what happened?" the pilot asked.
"Stand by, we're trying to figure this out," the tower replied.
"We really don't have enough fuel here for this. We have to get on the ground pretty quick," the pilot said.
In 2011, an air traffic control person at Reagan National fell asleep on the job and failed to respond to pilots trying to land at the airport, according to The Washington Post.
"We will always have human error," ABC News aviation analyst John Nance said, "but the air traffic control doesn't have money to build a high-tech system to alert folks when errors are made."