The National Transportation Safety Board will examine the flight recorder of a Piedmont Airlines jet to determine whether the plane passed unusually close to high-rise buildings in Rosslyn Tuesday morning, as witnesses have reported.
People who saw the plane from the USA Today building and from other points in Rosslyn said that it was quite low as it flew by shortly after 10 a.m.
Some said that they had feared the jet, a Boeing 737 headed for National Airport's main runway, would strike a building.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Piedmont have said recorded images from National Airport's radar scopes and interviews with tower controllers and pilots indicate the plane made a normal instrument approach.
Examination of the plane's recorder, which logs airspeed, altitude, heading and vertical acceleration, will be done as part of a larger study of safety standards at National and 13 other U.S. airports, a safety board spokesman said.
Yesterday, Piedmont declined further comment pending the safety board's findings. But earlier, airline spokesman Don McGuire suggested that low-lying clouds and a crosswind maneuver known as crabbing might have given ground observers a distorted view of the jet's flight path.
Crabbing involves turning the nose of a plane off its course to compensate for crosswinds. Pilots of two Piedmont jets that passed Rosslyn close to the time of the reported incident said they turned the planes' noses toward the buildings, McGuire said.
He suggested that made the plane in question appear to be heading toward the buildings when in fact it was flying down the river.
Planes making an instrument approach from the north normally are at between 720 and 900 feet when passing Rosslyn, according to McGuire.
One of the pilots reported he dropped somewhat lower than that to get a clear view of the ground, due to a low cloud cover, McGuire said.