"AIR CRASHES AND MIRACLE LANDINGS: 85 CASES – HOW AND WHY"
PSA 182 727 Collides with Cessna (San Diego, 1978)
The improvements in air traffic control following the two midair collisions described in the previous section meant there was never another collision between airliners in the US. However, about twenty years later a Boeing 727 trijet collided with a Cessna piloted by a young man wearing a hood for instrument flying training.
Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182/Cessna, September 25, 1978
The Pacific Southwest Airlines 727 twinjet was approaching San Diego Airport, which unlike most major airports in the United States is nestled close to the city, making it more difficult to see small aircraft against a background of buildings. Being so confined, it is a challenging airport for pilots besides being the busiest single-runway airport in the States. It was a bright, sunny day with visibility ten miles. On board the aircraft were 7 crew and 128 passengers, including 29 of the airline’s employees. The pilot flying was First Officer Robert Fox, thirty-eight, and in the left-hand seat was Captain James McFeron, forty-two. With them was the obligatory flight engineer, and in the jump seat, and a source of distraction, was an off-duty PSA captain.
At 8:59, ATC alerted them to the presence nearby of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a very small GA aircraft that had taken off from Montgomery Field executive airport six miles from downtown San Diego and was legally operating under visual flight rules (VFR). This meant that they had not had to file a flight plan and only had to verbally signal their intentions to the controllers who could give them orders. However, the pilot flying the Cessna was being trained to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR) and to make it realistic was wearing a hood restricting his vision to his instruments and controls. An instructor able to see outside was with him.
Though being piloted under IFR simulation, the Cessna was to the outside world performing a missed approach under visual meteorological conditions from San Diego’s runway and climbing away to the east, and in contact with San Diego Approach Control. The Cessna without informing the controllers made a change in heading that bought it ahead of the faster airliner but below.
The PSA 727 was descending.
Meanwhile the atmosphere in the cockpit of the PSA 727 had been very relaxed, with laughter and the off-duty captain telling an anecdote. They confirmed to ATC that they had seen the Cessna but not that they had subsequently lost sight of it. Nowadays, the sterile cockpit rule applied under ten thousand feet would have precluded this type of banter.
Just before they came down onto the Cessna there was the following conversation:
09:01:11 First officer: Are we clear of that Cessna?
09:01:13 Flight engineer: Supposed to be.
09:01:14 Captain: I guess. [Laughter and unclear.]
09:01:20 Off-duty captain: I hope.
09:01:21 Captain: Oh yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him at about one o’clock. Probably behind us now.