DETROIT (AP) – The operator of a southeastern Michigan skydiving company says his pilot is blameless in a close encounter with a Spirit Airlines plane that forced the jetliner with 131 people aboard into a sharp evasive dive.
Federal investigators, however, said Wednesday that it was too early to say who or what is responsible for the incident that caused luggage bins to pop open and spill, flight attendants to bump their heads against the ceiling and passengers to scream in fear.
“No conclusions have been drawn,” Federal Aviation Association spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory told The Associated Press in an email. “Our investigation will take several weeks.”
The Airbus 319 jetliner took off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Sunday evening and was bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport when the encounter occurred over Tecumseh.
Franz Gerschwiler, who operates Skydive Tecumseh, said the FAA indicated his pilot did nothing wrong.
“We’re squeaky clean,” Gerschwiler told The Daily Telegram of Adrian. “The FAA took great pains to tell us we are not under investigation. My pilot is not under investigation. He did everything right.”
AP left a message seeking comment at Gerschwiler’s home Wednesday night.
In fact, the pilots on both planes remain under investigation, Cory said, as do air traffic controllers and the planes and flight control equipment they use.
Cory said investigators “look at the performance of the pilots, determine if they have proper certification and training; look at the aircraft (was it properly built and maintained); see if performance of FAA facilities or functions was a factor; see if non-FAA owned facilities were a factor; determine if the rules of flight were followed.”
Without knowing what was happening, passengers began screaming, fearing they were about to crash, said passenger Janet Dunnabeck of Whitney, Texas, who was traveling with her 10- and 19-year-old daughters. She said the pilot came on the intercom afterward to say that there had been an air traffic issue.
No passengers were injured, although two flight attendants who sustained bumps sat down afterward and were relieved by non-working airline employees who were among the passengers.
“Our pilots followed appropriate procedures and adjusted their flight path upon receiving an advisory of another possible aircraft in range,” Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said in an email.
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