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Federal investigators probe why two planes were on same course near San Francisco

March 30, 2010 |  8:05 pm

Federal officials are investigating why a small airplane and commercial airliner were flying toward each other for short period of time Saturday near San Francisco International Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that the United Boeing 777 and Cessna 182 planes were separated by 3,000 feet of vertical space and 500 feet of horizontal space. The commercial airliner had just taken off, and the Cessna was about two miles west of the airport at 1,500-feet altitude, the FAA said.

Although the horizontal distance separating the aircraft was within acceptable limits, an airport controller should have noticed the position of the Cessna earlier, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.  He added that the controller spotted the planes in time and alerted the pilots, who had each other in their sights the entire time.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

-- Robert J. Lopez