Michelle Obama’s Plane Had Closer Call Than Reported

April 25, 2011 Updated: September 29, 2015


A plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama last Monday missed colliding with a big military cargo jet more narrowly than previously reported, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Friday.

The Boeing 737 which was carrying Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, was heading toward Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington for landing at 5:06 p.m. EDT, when it came as close as 2.94 miles to the 200-ton C17 military plane traveling ahead of it.

The Federal Aviation Administration had previously announced that the distance between the two planes was at least three miles and that the planes were “never in any danger.”

The FAA had also instructed controllers’ supervisors to monitor future flights with the first lady or Vice President Joe Biden on board. A supervisor was already required to oversee flights carrying President Barack Obama.

The two planes, which were lined up to approach runway 19 by a controller at a regional radar facility in Warrenton, Va., were already too close when Andrews’ controllers took over.

The Andrews controllers promptly instructed the Boeing 737 pilot to make a series of turns to distance itself from the C17. However, as the spacing between the two planes continued to narrow to 2.94 miles, the tower controller ordered the Boeing 737 pilot to abort landing and circle around in the air until the C17 cleared the runway.

Federal regulations require five miles between planes to avert “wake turbulence” when the plane ahead is much larger than the one behind.