3 Planes in Near-Miss at Washington Airport

Miscommunication between air traffic controllers raise concerns.
3:00 | 08/02/12

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Transcript for 3 Planes in Near-Miss at Washington Airport
We turn now to a scare in the sky. Three planes came dangerously close over the nation's capital. Nearly 200 passengers on those planes unaware of the danger the planes were in. Look at this image tonight. Thousands of planes there over america. As we zoom to the washington, d.C. Area, you can see the number of planes in that region right now. Jim avila reports on the planes coming too close for comfort and the new questions over who is watching out for the passengers. Reporter: Drama at 1,800 feet over washington's potomac river. Stand by. We're trying to figure this out for you. Stand by. Reporter: In full view of the faa control tower. A commuter airliner takes off in the wrong direction while a second jet is cleared to land on the same runway. A near miss. Serious danger of a possible collision. With one plane a mere 800 feet higher than the other and less than a mile away. Traveling at a combined speed of 300 miles per hour. That's moments apart. In an airport traffic area, somewhere between 10, 15, and 12 seconds. Reporter: But before the jets can intersect, an alert controller standing right here, orders the landing pilot flying u.S. Air flight 3329 to immediately change course. 3329 turn right, heading 1-8-0. And we were clear at the river back there. What happened? Reporter: The plane turns right, missing the first jet on takeoff, and then a second. What we're proudest of is that we have a well trained controller and did what she was supposed to do. At no time was there going to be a collision. Reporter: But the faa and ntsb are not proud of what led to the close call. A miscommunication between a supervisor at the reagan national tower and another at the regional center that directs approaches to d.C. Controllers at reagan apparently never got clear instructions to reverse the direction of take-offs because of bad weather. So the regional control center sent landing planes directly into the flight path of departures. A formula for disaster. The faa says it will get to the bottom of the miscommunication and it also wants to know why it learned about this incident from a reporter and not from its controllers or supervisors. I spoke at a background meeting of controllers and they reminded me just how difficult and tense their job is and how proud they were that while it may have been a mistake today, it was a front-line controller who averted disaster.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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