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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 11:19 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 59º


Hollywood Director Recalls Scary ‘Near Miss’ Landing at Santa Barbara Airport

Skywest regional jet veered sharply to avoid helicopter crossing its path; airport confirms 'aircraft were closer than we prefer'

A United Airlines CRJ-200 regional jet, operated by Skywest Airlines, lands Tuesday afternoon at the Santa Barbara Airport after flying from LAX. On Oct. 8, a similar aircraft took evasive action — terrifying passengers — when a helicopter crossed its path as it was landing at the airport. Click to view larger
A United Airlines CRJ-200 regional jet, operated by Skywest Airlines, lands Tuesday afternoon at the Santa Barbara Airport after flying from LAX. On Oct. 8, a similar aircraft took evasive action — terrifying passengers — when a helicopter crossed its path as it was landing at the airport. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

As a Hollywood director of television shows such as The Good Wife and WestworldFred Toye knows a thing or two about drama.

But that probably was not enough to prepare him for a recent “terrifying” experience flying into the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport.

Toye, 49, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 5038 on Oct. 8 as the 50-seat CRJ-200 regional jet, operated by Skywest Airlines, was preparing to land shortly after 12:30 p.m.

Approaching the airport’s main runway from the east at the end of a 19-minute flight from Los Angeles International Airport, “we were about 500 above ground level ... when the plane violently banked right about 45-60 degrees, and out the southern facing window I saw a helicopter flash by,” recalled Toye, who lives in Montecito with his wife and three daughters.

“The pilot immediately banked violently back left again, still descending and attempting to return to the runway for landing.”

At this point, Toye said, many of the passengers were screaming and crying.

Toye, a private pilot who travels frequently for business, said he was in a window seat on the left side of the aircraft.

“As I observed the pilot attempting to regain centerline, I had hoped he would conduct a go-around, but unfortunately he decided to land the plane, and he dropped it in heavily, I’m sure out of panic,” said Toye, a UC Santa Barbara graduate.

“He landed right wing down, and dropped in, requiring full reverse thrust and hard braking to stop before the end of the 7,000-foot runway. The passengers and myself were completely frightened, and with no word from the cockpit, began to disembark.”

Toye said he held back so he could talk to the pilot.

“I waited until the end of the line and spoke with the pilot, who confirmed the near miss — even saying that they felt the rotor wash of the helicopter,” Toye said. “I inquired if there would be a filling with NTSB or FAA, and he said they have an ‘internal process’ that deals with these issues.”

After being contacted about the incident by Noozhawk, Tracy Lincoln, the airport’s operations director, made inquiries with control tower personnel, who eventually confirmed the event.

“Our radar replay showed that the aircraft were closer than we prefer,” Todd A. Smith, air traffic manager in the Santa Barbara tower, said in an email to Lincoln.

“The helicopter pilot was told about the inbound (United flight) and advised us that he had the regional jet in sight. We are unclear why he flew that close to the arrival.

“We are going to conduct a System Service Review to determine what we can do to preclude a similar event from occurring.”

What is commonly referred to as a “near miss” by the public is actually called a Near Mid-Air Collision or NMAC in Federal Aviation Administration parlance.

The FAA has a section on its website dedicated to reporting and investigating NMACs, and provides the following explanation:

“A NMAC is an incident associated with the operation of an aircraft in which a possibility of a collision occurs as a result of proximity of less than 500 feet to another aircraft, or a report is received from a pilot or flight crew member stating that a collision hazard existed between two or more aircraft.

“A report does not necessarily involve the violation of regulations or error by the air traffic control system, nor does it necessarily represent an unsafe condition.”

According to the FAA website, there is no mandate for a pilot or anyone else to report a NMAC:

“It is the responsibility of pilots and/or flight crew members to determine whether a NMAC actually did occur and, if so, to initiate a NMAC report. There is, however, no regulatory or legal requirement that a pilot and/or flight crew report a NMAC event, although they are encouraged to do so.”

Noozhawk could find no evidence that the United pilot or anyone else involved reported the incident. There is no listing for it on the FAA’s Near Mid-Air Collision search page online.

Noozhawk also was unable to determine the name of the Skywest pilot, details on the helicopter and its pilot, or how close the two aircraft came to each other.

No response was received to questions about the incident emailed by Noozhawk to a Skywest spokeswoman at the company’s headquarters in St. George, Utah.

Although nerves clearly were frayed in the incident, no injuries were reported.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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