An alert air traffic controller backed up by sophisticated tracking gear has been credited by the Federal Aviation Administration with narrowly diverting an Argentine jetliner from a collision last week with the 110-story World Trade Center.
In Buenos Aires, Aerolines Argentine disputed the FAA account, saying the airline learned about it only yesterday from news reports.
Dick Markovits, northeastern chief of air traffic operations for the FAA, said that without the tracking gear's warning alarm and the controller's quick reaction, the the Boeing 707 would have smashed head-on into one of the 1,350-foot-tall Twin World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan.
The plane was inbound from Ecuador in heavy fog about 10:05 p.m. Friday. The pilot's orders were to stay at 3,000 feet over the city, but when the plane was less than three miles or 90 seconds south of the trade center it dropped to 1,500 feet, setting off an automatic alarm at the Radar Control Center at Hempstead on Long Island, not far from Kennedy airport.
A controller there told the pilot to "Turn right! Immediate right turn! Climb -- climb immiediately!"
The spokesman said the airline "had no knowledge whatsoever" that Flight 342 was involved in such an incident. He insisted there was "excellent visibility" in New York Friday night "and the pilot wasn't blind." And he speculated that the FAA report was part of an effort by U.S. competitors to discredit the airline.