WASHINGTON (Reuters)—A jet carrying first lady Michelle Obama abandoned a landing approach outside Washington to avoid another plane in an apparent mistake by air traffic controllers, U.S. aviation officials said on Tuesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement her government-owned Boeing 737 was approaching Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland when it was told to "go around," or to climb and attempt another approach, shortly after 5 p.m. EDT Monday.
The agency said Mrs. Obama's plane was about three miles behind an Air Force C-17 that was landing, rather than the five-mile spacing required when trailing in the wake of a much larger aircraft like the military cargo plane.
"The aircraft were never in any danger" and both planes landed safely, the FAA said.
Andrews is a military facility where Air Force One -- the presidential aircraft -- and other top level government planes are based. But the air space around it is handled by the civilian FAA, which is under fire over disclosures in recent weeks that a handful of controllers had fallen asleep on the job while working overnight shifts.
Mrs. Obama's plane was being overseen by a radar facility in Virginia when it was given the order to attempt a second landing approach to Andrews due to the apparent aircraft separation error.
The FAA said it was investigating the incident.
Suspected controller errors in 2010 hit 1,887 from 1,233 the previous year, according to the FAA. More than half were considered relatively minor, but reports in the most severe category rose to 43 from 37, FAA figures show.
(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Todd Eastham)