By Associated Press
DENVER -- The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating after an air traffic controller was accused of ignoring a request for an emergency landing in Denver after a commercial airline pilot reported smoke in the cabin.
The controller thought the call was a prank and dismissed the emergency call minutes later, according to recordings obtained by KUSA-TV ( http://on9news.tv/HkWYhP ).
The United Express plane from Peoria, Ill., was evacuated Tuesday after the plane landed at Denver International Airport. An FAA report said firefighters extinguished a fire in the instrument panel.
The recordings show that the controller apparently misunderstood the call letters of the airliner. According to KUSA-TV, a voice from the cockpit, either the co-pilot or pilot, is heard saying, "Emergency, smoke in the cockpit, roll trucks please" as the plane came in for a landing.
A controller in the tower responds, asking, "Who was that?"
The voice responded "5912" - the flight number that air controllers were tracking.
After some confusion, the controller responds about 10 seconds later, asking: "United 12, what's your position?"
After no response, more time elapsed before the controller says, "Did you hear that? I know that's BS. I know it is." Controllers said they were not aware of a United Flight 12.
Airline analysts say fake calls are a problem that can originate from anyone near the airport with a radio.
Controllers apparently realized the mistake when the pilot made another emergency call saying the plane had already landed and was evacuating on the runway. It was only then that fire trucks responded.
One of the 21 passengers was taken to the hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the investigation has been turned over to the FAA, which said it would comment later Friday. The airline did not respond to requests for comment.