updated 1/27/2010 11:01:39 AM ET 2010-01-27T16:01:39

Federal Aviation Administration officials say an error by an air traffic controller allowed a commuter plane to get too close to a Boeing 767 on approach to Los Angeles International Airport last week.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said Tuesday that an American Eagle Embraer E135 came within three miles (five kilometers) of the tail of the Chilean-based LAN Airlines plane on Jan. 19 while flying at about 7,000 feet (2,100 meters). Pilots are required to maintain five miles (eight kilometers) of separation to avoid wake turbulence that can send smaller planes out of control.

Controllers union spokesman Melvin Davis told San Diego's KGTV that controllers are overworked and understaffed.

Gregor called the error "serious" but said it was not caused by understaffing and there was no imminent danger to the smaller plane.

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