A Piedmont Airlines jetliner landing under low clouds at National Airport passed unusually close to high-rise buildings in Rosslyn yesterday morning, office workers there said.
Spokesmen for the Federal Aviation Administration and Piedmont said inquiries indicated that the plane, a Boeing 737 from Charlotte, N.C., correctly followed an instrument approach to National's main runway as it passed near Rosslyn at about 10:15 a.m.
"It was really frightening," said Kitty Yancey, an editor at USA Today newspaper. "If it had been any closer, I really think it could have clipped the building . . . . Normally, it's like planes passing in the distance. This was like a plane turning and coming right for you."
Piedmont spokesman Don McGuire said, however, that to maintain direction in strong crosswinds, the pilot had turned the nose about 30 degrees off the plane's course. This pointed the nose toward Rosslyn and may have led people in buildings there to believe the plane was headed at them, he said, when in fact it was going down the river. McGuire said low-lying clouds can also distort perceptions of depth.
Four people who said they saw the plane varied on details of how close it came, but all agreed it was much closer than usual. Yancey said the plane was so close to the publication's Wilson Boulevard building--one of the tallest office buildings in the Washington area--that passengers were visible in the windows.
A woman who works on the 24th floor said: "He was coming straight for us. I thought his wing was going to end up in the conference room . . . . He took up all the windows."
FAA spokesman Fred Farrar said that the National Airport control tower was still studying recorded radar images of the plane. But preliminary findings of the investigation, based on weather records and interviews with controllers, indicate the plane was not off course, he said.
Investigation so far indicates that the plane's path "was completely legal, completely safe . . . ," Farrar said.
Piedmont spokesman McGuire said questioning of the pilot indicated the plane was between 720 and 900 feet from the ground and on course as it passed Rosslyn