Fighters, commercial airliner get too close for comfortFebruary 6, 1997
Web posted at 10:15 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two F-16 fighter jets had a close encounter with a commercial airliner when the airliner ventured into restricted military air space, military officials said Thursday.
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Major Tom Schultz told CNN the F-16s came "close enough to the airliner to activate the plane's collision avoidance system."
The passenger liner was a Nation's Airways Boeing 727 charter enroute from Puerto Rico to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport when the incident occurred around 1:40 p.m. Wednesday about 50 miles off the New Jersey coast.
The two F-16s are assigned to the 177th Fighter Group, based in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They were on a "routine intercept" exercise, New Jersey Air National Guard spokesman Col. Tom Griffin said.
Officials told CNN that the airspace had been reserved for use by military aircraft, but the airliner came into the area anyway.
The two F-16s flew into the space and one of the pilots went to get a visual identification on the 727, officials said. When the F-16 approached, the planes were separated by 1,000 feet in altitude and the F-16 stayed 1,000 feet behind the civilian liner as well, but that was close enough to activate the automated collision avoidance system.
The 727 apparently then changed altitude rapidly, startling passengers and cabin crew.
Due to the separation of the planes, there was no danger of imminent collision, Griffin said.
The incident was being investigated by the Air Force Inspector General's office at Tindall Air Force Base in Florida. Schultz said the Air Force had also asked the Federal Aviation Administration to join in the investigation.
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