DENVER,The voices are calm on the tape, but air traffic controllers assumed that most or all of the passengers of Continental Flight 1404 died when the plane crashed in December.
The recordings of communications between planes and the tower were released Friday.
“For the aircraft to get that far from the runway across that kind of terrain and to be on fire, we all did think everyone was dying,” said Richard Foster, president of the Denver chapter of the Air Traffic Controllers Association and a controller in the tower Dec. 20 when the crash happened. “I mean you can tell as (controller) Tom first realized that Continental was off the runway, there's a certain amount of adrenaline goes into his voice and after that it calms back down.”
Foster, who was able to speak as union president, described the night of the crash as air traffic controllers saw it.
“Tower it looks like you have a plane go off three four right on the left side,” an unidentified pilot called.
“Say that again,” said air traffic controller Tom Hedeen.
“It looked like an aircraft went off three four right on the left side,” the pilot said.
Foster said Hedeen at first assumed there were two planes on one runway because of the way the pilot called it in. But they soon realized that the Continental flight, which had been cleared for take off, was not in the air. Then controllers saw the smoke and glow of fire.
In the confusion, the first call to fire fighters gave the wrong directions but air traffic controllers were soon able to get fire trucks to the crashed airplane, which was difficult to see because it was down a ravine.
“And Ops 7 if you get just immediately west of three four right and just north of whiskey charley you’ll see the glow coming out. I can see the flames right now,” Hedeen said.
Foster said their job is to call firefighters right away with any information they have at the time. “If we let them wait until we got perfect information before they get started we're wasting valuable time,” Foster said.
Fire fighters arrived on the scene within minutes and were able douse the plane and put out the flames. All 115 people on the plane survived, which surprised air traffic controllers. Thirty-eight people were injured.
“It took a moment to adjust to, okay, everyone's got out of there alive because what we saw from the tower you're hoping anyone would be alive ...,” Foster said.
Tags: First, dramatic, moments, of, DIA, (Denver), crash, captured, on, tape/Audio
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States (load item map)
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