Post: Mistake Forces Plane Carrying First Lady to Abort Landing

Posted April 19, 2011 at 6:00pm

Updated: 10 p.m.

An air traffic controller’s mistake put a White House plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama too close to a C-17 military cargo jet Monday, forcing Obama’s plane to abort its landing at Andrews Air Force Base, the Washington Post reported Tuesday evening.

Controllers at Andrews realized the planes were too close when a controller in Warrenton, Va., handed off responsibility for the planes, federal officials familiar with the incident told the Post.

The planes were 3.08 miles apart, but Federal Aviation Administration rules require a five-mile separation behind C-17s because of turbulence.

The Andrews controllers ordered the Obama plane into a series of maneuvers to create more space, then instructed it to abort its landing and circle the airport.

Such events “happen fairly frequently,” an unidentified federal official who works with the air traffic control system told the Post. “Unfortunately, this one involves a presidential plane.”

FAA officials confirmed to the Post that Obama was on the plane, but an FAA statement released Tuesday evening did not mention a connection between the White House and the incident. “The aircraft were never in any danger,” according to the statement, which said the FAA is investigating.

Obama’s office did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.