Transaero Jet in Near Collision

A Transaero jumbo jet and a Delta Air Lines plane were one minute from colliding when at least one of the planes turned away from the other over the Atlantic Ocean last week.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating the incident in which the two passenger jets were heading toward each other Thursday north of Puerto Rico when cockpit alarms went off.

The pilot of the Russian plane -- a Transaero Boeing 747 -- descended 60 to 90 meters to avoid the Delta Boeing 737, U.S. and Transaero officials said.

"During the flight the aircraft's Traffic Collision Avoidance System went off. Later, we discovered that a U.S. Delta airliner was heading to the left of the Transaero aircraft," Transaero spokesman Sergei Bykhal said Friday, RIA-Novosti reported.

The planes were at the same altitude -- 10,000 meters -- over open ocean and were "60 seconds apart from occupying the same airspace," NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

Knudson said the agency did not have enough information yet to know whether the planes would have collided had evasive maneuvers not been taken, or if they would have narrowly missed each other.

The two planes were about 290 kilometers north of San Juan when the near-collision occurred. The Delta Flight 485 -- with 152 passengers aboard -- was headed from New York's Kennedy International Airport to Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Transaero Flight UN554 was flying from Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, to Domodedovo Airport. It was not immediately clear how many passengers were on board.

"This was every bit the classic near miss," said Doug Church, a spokesman for the U.S. National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The Delta pilot told air traffic controllers that the incident was "extremely close" and that he also took evasive maneuvers, said Victor Santore, a vice president of the controllers union.

NTSB's Knudson said he could not confirm the controllers' account.

There was no FAA radar coverage in the area where the planes nearly collided -- as is the case over most open ocean. The NTSB says aircraft are required to remain at least 15 minutes apart when flying through areas with no radar coverage.

Flight plans filed by the two airlines placed the aircraft on intersecting flight paths, which would have been fine as long as they stayed 15 minutes apart, Santore said.

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton declined to provide any further details of the incident.

The Transaero spokesman described the Russian pilot's actions as irreproachable.

In July 1, 2002, a Tu-154 operated by Bashkirian Airlines collided with a DHL cargo jet over southern Germany, killing 71 people, mostly Russian schoolchildren on a vacation trip to Spain.

An investigation found that an air traffic controller with Swiss company Skyguide, Peter Nielsen, had been the only person on duty at the time, in breach of safety procedures.

Nielsen was later stabbed to death outside his home by Vitaly Kaloyev, a North Ossetian architect whose wife and two children died in the crash. Kaloyev was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in a Swiss prison but released early for good behavior last November.

AP, MT