Two passenger jets on their way to Istanbul almost collided over Bulgaria. The incident, which happened on September 8 2016, but was disclosed only now, was rated as serious.
Above the town of Elhovo, an Airbus A321 owned by Atlasjet was instructed to descend in order to avoid coming too close to a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737. The Atlasjet pilots initiated a climb instead. As a result, the two jetliners were flying on a parallel course, at the same altitude, just 1.4 miles from each other. In aviation terms, that distance is virtually nothing. Experts call this a “near miss”, even though it would be more logical to call it a “near hit”.
A this stage, it is unclear why the Atlasjet pilots did the opposite of what they were ordered to do by Bulgarian air traffic controllers. The investigation is ongoing.
There might have been a language issue. Maybe the flight controllers did not react on time either, but that is speculation, at this point.
According to the Aviation Herald, the Atlasjet Airbus was flying from Zurich to Istanbul, while the Turkish Airlines jet was on route from London Gatwick to Istanbul. Controllers at Sofia Centre instructed the Atlasjet pilots to descend from 35,000 to 31,000 feet. While the planes were basically at the same coordinates, the Turkish Airlines jet liner was told to descend from 37,000 to 33,000 feet. According to the media report, that was when the Atlasjet plane started to climb. Both planes ended up at a level of 36,300 feet, when the dangerous situation occurred.
The Bulgarian Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) is on the case, investigating.
The last aviation accident in Bulgaria took place in 1978, when a Tupulev TU-134 owned by Balkan Airways, the predecessor of Bulgaria Air, crashed 100 kilometers from Sofia. All 73 people aboard died. The cause for the crash was never determined.