Medford, Ore. — Flying in fog is a common problem in the Rogue Valley.
For that reason, pilots rely on the plane’s instruments and air traffic control.
A potential failure in communication, though, may have put one plane at risk.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are now investigating.
“Inside of clouds is instrument flying… you rely solely on the instruments,” Jet Center Medford’s Monte George said.
Monte George works at Jet Center Medford.
Involved in aviation for 45 years, he’s aware of the instruments pilots use for vision when traveling through the sky.
“Aircraft now even have what we call synthetic visibility where it actually generates a picture of what’s in front of you and where you’re going… including the runway,” George said.
But its’ not just the instruments pilots use while flying.
They are also in constant communication with Air Traffic Control.
Each flight is like a collaborative dance as they maneuver safely through the clouds.
“There is a particular separation that’s required between you and the terrain or obstacles around,” George said.
Sometimes communication doesn’t go as planned.
NBC5 News has been told that may have been what happened on Christmas Eve.
According to a tip, a plane flying in dense fog near Medford was directed to drop to 7,800 feet.
Those instructions would have cleared Mount Ashland by just 145 feet.
While we weren’t able to confirm the specifics of the incident, both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board confirm they are investigating something that happened that night.
“We live in a mountainous terrain area. You can’t see it… you have to track it with your instruments,” George said.
George says flying in fog requires clearance by air traffic controllers, but it’s still the pilot’s responsibility to make sure everyone is safe.
“Ultimately, it’s the pilot’s job to make sure that you’re getting the right clearance at the right time and doing the right thing,” George said.
NBC5 News has been told more than 50 passengers and flight crew members were on board the flight.
We’ve reached out to both the NTSB and Air Traffic Control in Eugene about the investigation.
So far, we have yet to hear back.