Gov. Eloy S. Inos expects an explanation for the reported “near-miss” between civilian and military aircraft last Wednesday afternoon, when two unidentified military C-130s came directly at and passed unannounced within 300 feet of a Star Marianas twin-engine plane.
“I have requested to receive as soon as possible a written explanation and copies of any reports available regarding the Near Mid-Air Collisions (NMAC) reported Tuesday. I was informed Tuesday afternoon that the Joint Region Marianas Range Complex Operations personnel were working on the necessary reports and would expect to receive the information as soon as it becomes available.
“In addition, I was surprised like everyone else upon reading the news account of the NMAC and it is my hope that if a similar such incident should ever occur in the future, I would appreciate being informed of such an incident in advance instead of reading about in the newspaper,” Inos said in a statement.
The “near-miss” reportedly happened last Wednesday as a Star Marianas pilot was about 1 mile offshore coming across the channel from Saipan toward Tinian. The pilot was flying passengers at the 1,500 feet standard altitude and routing flown by Star Marianas, and was still within the Saipan tower’s airspace, or Delta airspace—when the military planes approached, according to Star Marianas.
“I called tower and reported that a C-130 was coming at me and stated it passed within about 300 feet of my aircraft and asked if they knew about that aircraft being there. They stated that they had not known and that the aircraft had just called them,” the Star Marianas pilot had said.
The first C-130 was followed by another C-130, which was slightly off the lead C-130’s left wing, according to the pilot. Both planes had nose-high altitude and were climbing in the pilot’s direction—right through the standard altitude and routing flown by commercial planes between the islands.
Star Marianas has since reported the incident to the FAA in Guam as a “near midair collision,” or NMAC. On Tuesday, the FAA in Guam confirmed that they are gathering details to begin an investigation.
It is believed that the military planes were part of last month’s Cope North exercise, but calls and emails to the military in Guam and Hawaii were unsuccessful in identifying these planes.
Star Marianas asserts that both C-130s had violated the requirement to establish communication with the Saipan tower prior to entering the Delta airspace, because both civilian and military were “clearly inside the Delta airspace when the incident occurred.”
The incidents come amid reports of increased military presence in the CNMI. Star Marianas has also reported other incidents of unannounced military mid-air approaches—one involving Star Marianas president Shaun Christian himself, while he was preparing to land on Rota last month.
According to Christian, an Australian C-130 had pulled onto the runway while he was on “about a one half mile final [landing] and 300 feet off the ground.”
The C-130 did this “without making any announcements or checking to see if there was anyone in the traffic pattern,” he had said. It resulted in Christian having to “go-around” or essentially reject his landing to avoid any potential collision.