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Tue, Apr 18, 2006

Sea-Tac Tower Falls Silent For 25 Minutes

Delays One Takeoff, One Landing... As Plane Was On Approach

Did someone in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport control tower take an especially long bathroom break last week? That may have been the case, as the Associated Press reports that for 25 minutes in the early morning hours of April 11, the tower was incommunicado to planes in the area.

"There were two planes affected -- one trying to take off and one trying to come in," airport spokesman Bob Parker said Monday.

Airport officials and the FAA told Seattle television station KING-5 that a Taiwanese EVA 747-400 was on final approach to Sea-Tac around 3:15 am when it radioed the tower for landing clearance. When no one answered, the plane went around -- and remained airborne until a controller could be reached.

At the same time, a Delta Air Lines jet that called ground for clearance to back away from the gate at the airport's south satellite terminal was also unable to reach anyone.

The as-yet-unexplained silence came to an end when a Port of Seattle worker drove to the guard shack at the base of the control tower. The guard was then able to contact the proper authorities, who rushed over to man the tower.

Traditionally, only one controller is on duty at the Sea-Tac tower during the overnight hours, as traffic is light enough to allow one controller to handle both ground and tower duties. In the wake of last week's incident, however, airport officials say two controllers will now staff the tower overnight -- just in case.

"We think this is indeed an aberration that is still under investigation," said airport operations director Mike Ehl.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.portseattle.org/seatac/

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