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Close call between airliner, military helicopter

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WASHINGTON (AP) — There was a close call between a military helicopter and a regional airliner attempting to land at Reagan National Airport near Washington last week, federal officials said Sunday.

At their closest point, the two aircraft were flying at the same altitude and were only 950 feet apart laterally, said Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident.

Republic Airlines flight 3281 had descended to 400 feet as it approached the airport when the helicopter, which had been flying lower and ahead of the plane, briefly rose to 400 feet as well, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

That set off an alarm aboard the airliner warning of a potential impending collision, Weiss said. The airline pilot aborted the landing, circled around and landed safely. The incident occurred at 4:05 p.m. EDT on Friday, Weiss said.

NTSB identified the airliner as an Embraer 175, a twin-engine jet that generally seats about 80 people. The flight originated in Columbus, Ohio, and was destined for Huntsville, Ala., with a stopover in Washington, Weiss said.

The FAA and NTSB provided conflicting information about the helicopter. The FAA identified the helicopter as UH-60. Better known as a Black Hawk, the UH-60 is a twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter made Sikorsky.

Weiss identified the helicopter as a Bell UH-1 based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland using the call sign Mussel 9. The UH-1, also known as a Huey, has a single engine with a two-bladed main rotor and tail rotor.

The Air Force's 11th wing, based at Andrews, includes a UH-1 helicopter squadron. Andrews is the military's security base for the Washington area.

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