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Charles Johnson

Definition: Charles Johns was the flight controller on duty during the Flight 401 incident.


At the NTSB public hearings in March 1973, Mr. Johnson was asked why he didn't warn EAL 401 of its low altitude when he first noticed the 900 foot reading on his radar screen. Mr. Johnson testified that he wanted to see another sweep of the radar before making any judgements, that the readouts often differed from the actual altitude. "It's like when your TV picture rolls once, you don't unplug it and take it to the TV man. You wait for a pattern of operation." He went on to say that in his opinion, the pilots appeared to be in command of the flight, as evidenced by their calm demeanor and rapid response to his instructions and questions. "There was no indication that the crew was unaware of its altitude," Johnson testified. This statement drew attention from an examiner who asked, "how would they indicate that they weren't aware of their altitude?" Johnson stammered for a moment and then sheepishly said, "I don't know."

Johnson's supervisor, Carl E. Joritz, Chief of the Miami Air Traffic Control Center, later pointed out that it is not the controller's duty to monitor the distance between the airplane and the ground, but rather the distance between airplanes. Although technically true at the time, the supervisor admitted that all controllers have a moral obligation to alert flight crews of an emergency situation. When Johnson was asked if he was treating Flight 401 as if it were an emergency situation, Johnson replied, "no." Joritz also testified that pilot groups have asked controllers not to bother them if they are having trouble landing.

Ironically, on June 21, 1973, Charles Johnson was on duty in the Miami tower when a small plane crashed in the Everglades after having its radio tuned to the wrong frequency. Strangely, killed on board the small plane was William Gregg, who was on board another small plane December 29th and had reported seeing Flight 401 crash to the Miami tower.


Eastern Flight 401


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  external linkEastern Airlines Flight 401 - Crash Investigation, Findings and Passenger List - Official Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 - History, Photos, Survivors and Tribute



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