DC air traffic controller falls asleep, pilots land themselves

WASHINGTON (CNN) - An air traffic controller at Washington's Reagan National Airport reportedly told investigators he fell asleep on the job, leaving two planes to land on their own.

"It scares me a little," said a traveler. "I'd like to think that I wouldn't be asleep at the wheel if I was driving."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the 20-year-old veteran admitted nodding off while working his fourth straight overnight shift.

Officials said the pilots of the two planes tried to contact the tower to get clearance to land, but got no response. Both planes landed safely, but now officials are investigating why this happened.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the first case happened at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday when an American Airlines flight from Miami wanted to touch down, but could not contact the controller.

Fifteen minutes later, a United flight from Chicago wanted to land, but again no response from the controller.

Luckily both flights landed safely.

"Let's face it, there are too many planes stacked up there to not be paying attention," a traveler said.

Now an investigation is under way and Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood ordered changes.

"I directed the FAA to place two air traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport's control tower managing air traffic in this critical air space," Lahood said.

Lahood also wants to study staffing levels at airports nationwide.

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