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Two Planes in Close Call After Rookie Air Traffic Control Error

Comstock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- A Federal Aviation Administration probe into the rookie mistake of an air traffic controller, which brought two planes perilously close at Honolulu International Airport, has led to the resignation of a longtime air traffic controller.

A Japan Airlines 767 jet arriving in January to Honolulu from Tokyo and a United Parcel Service MD11 jet also coming in for a landing were involved in a near miss, only 15 miles west of the Hawaii capital, as first reported by Hawaii News Now.

The FAA now admits that because a rookie air controller froze while handling the planes, the two jets came within 300 feet of each other. The near miss caused both pilots to react to cockpit warnings of impending collision.

"UPS 36 heavy, fly heading 180. Japan Air 72 heavy, descend and maintain 1, 3,000," the air traffic controller said during the Jan. 14 incident, leading the JAL pilot to radio, "Japan Air 72 heavy, now TCAS descend."

The reference to TCAS means the pilot's collision alarm went off.

"One of the aircraft's computers said, 'climb,' and the other aircraft's computer said, 'descend'. So that they wouldn't go on this collision course and hit each other," ABC News Aviation consultant Steve Ganyard explained.

At one point, their altitude separation dropped to 0, meaning they were headed straight for each other, Hawaii News Now reported.

The novice controller who caused the near miss was handling eight planes at once, traffic the FAA considers of "average complexity," according to an FAA error-deviation report.

The FAA managers on scene at the time never reported the near miss. It wasn't until the UPS pilot told the National Transportation Safety Board that FAA headquarters found out.

The FAA said in a statement that as soon as the agency learned of this incident, it took quick and decisive action, which included retraining for the young controller and the resignation of his manager.

The FAA placed air traffic control manager Bob Rabideau on administrative leave in February. Rabideau, 65, who had been an air traffic controller for 20 years, later chose to retire.

The controllers union says it works with the FAA on safety.

"We take incidents like this very seriously," a spokesman said. "We are working collaboratively with the FAA on a wide array of initiatives that improve safety, which is our No. 1 priority. We are striving to make the world's safest system of aviation even safer."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio