A security video released from from the National transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows the path of an Air Canada plane that came close to landing on a taxiway with four planes on it instead of an empty runway at San Francisco International Airport last July.
At around midnight on July 7, 2017 Air Canada flight 759 came within metres of hitting the planes. The flight was carrying about 135 passengers at the time.
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The Air Canada jet was flying in from Toronto, and was already on a landing approach when a pilot from another airline sitting alerted traffic control while sitting on the taxiway.
The Air Canada pilot pulled up, and flew over the first two planes by just 30 metres. According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the Airbus A320 was sent around by an air traffic controller, and the plane “landed without incident” on a second approach. The action is referred to as a “go-around.”
While the footage is dark, the aircraft is barely visible in the distance. The plane can be seen approaching the taxiway and then promptly turning after being redirected by the air traffic controller.
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“This could have been the worst aviation disaster in history,” United Airlines Capt. Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts told Global News at the time. “Imagine an Airbus cartwheeling over four other aircraft full of fuel and passengers. We are talking over 1,500 casualties and five aircraft in flames.”
According to previous reporting by Global News, an NTSB statement revealed that the incident wasn’t reported to officials until two days later. Records from the company’s website indicate that the plane made several flights between July 8-10, totalling more than 10 hours in the air.
Former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation and aviation expert Mary Schiavo said the cockpit voice recorders capture conversations among the flight crew that are not recorded by air traffic control.
However, cockpit voice recorders are only required to capture the last two hours of a plane’s flying time and are automatically overwritten unless the recordings are downloaded.
According to records, these near misses happen more than one might think. At any given time, there are over 11,000 planes flying over North America, and former pilot Jock Williams told Global News that on any given day, there may be as many as eight to 10 “go-arounds.”
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In this case, he said it sounded like human error.
“If he was using instruments, he wasn’t using them right because the instruments will take you right to the centre of the runway,” said Williams in a segment recorded for Global News Toronto.
-With files from Andrew Russell.