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Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - Page updated at 01:01 AM


Sea-Tac control tower silent for 25 minutes

SEATAC, Wash. – For 25 minutes in the wee hours of April 11, the control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport did not respond to airplane traffic.

"There were two planes affected — one trying to take off and one trying to come in," airport spokesman Bob Parker said Monday.

The unexplained silence, which started about 3 a.m. that day, ended when a Port of Seattle staff member drove to the guard shack at the base of the control tower.

"They went over to the guard shack at the tower and he (the guard) was able to raise someone," Parker said.

The matter is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control, KING-TV reported. Associated Press calls to the agency's local office after business hours Monday were not immediately returned.

Airport officials and the FAA told KING earlier Monday that a Boeing 747-400 flown by Taiwanese carrier EVA was on its final approach to Sea-Tac at around 3:15 a.m. when it radioed the control tower for permission to land.

There was no response. Eventually, the airliner reached a dispatcher at the airport's departure control facility, who is not in the control tower, and made a plan to remain airborne until a controller could be reached.

Meanwhile, a Delta Airlines jet attempting to back away from the airport's south satellite got no response when it sought clearance to leave.

The airfield — the runways and taxiways — was cleared of maintenance workers until the tower resumed communications, Parker said. "They followed procedure and left the immediate area," he said.

At the time, only one controller was required to be in the glassed-in part of the tower, KING reported.

Starting the next day — in a change that the FAA said was already in the works — two controllers were required to be there.

Historically, one controller has been sufficient because activity is so low at that time of day, Mike Ehl, airport operations director, told KING.

"We think this is indeed an aberration that is still under investigation," Ehl said.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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