Pilots of jet that nearly smashed into aircraft on San Francisco airport taxiway said they didn’t see the planes


Federal officials investigating how an Air Canada flight carrying 140 passengers nearly smashed into planes waiting to depart at San Francisco International Airport cannot listen to audio from the plane’s cockpit because it has been written over.

According to an update on the investigation released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board, “the incident airplane’s cockpit voice recorder had been overwritten, so NTSB investigators did not have that data.”

But other details have emerged.

The Airbus A320 was cleared to land shortly before midnight on July 7, but the pilot lined up the aircraft on a taxiway that runs parallel to the runway. There, four fully loaded planes were queued up and waiting for clearance to take off.


Less than a mile away from the airport, the flight crew told air traffic controllers they saw lights on the runway and requested confirmation they were cleared to land.

They received clearance and continued to descend.

In a preliminary report released by Canadian officials a week after the incident, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said the Air Canada flight flew over the taxiway for about a quarter-mile before an air traffic controller instructed the pilot to circle around.

The pilots told investigators afterward “they did not recall seeing aircraft” on the taxiway “but that something did not look right to them,” the NTSB said.

A summary by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that was included with the Canadian officials’ report said the aircraft overflew United Airlines Flight 1 and Philippine Airlines Flight 115 by 100 feet. It also overflew United Flight 863 by 200 feet and United Flight 118 by 300 feet before air traffic control directed the pilot to go around.

One of the planes on the taxiway went so far as to turn on its landing lights as the Air Canada jet got closer.

The pilot operating the Air Canada flight has more than 20,000 total flight hours and his co-pilot has about 10,000, the NTSB said.


Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines captain, told the San Jose Mercury News, which first reported the incident, that if the pilot had not been told to correct course, the scene would have been horrific.

“If it is true, what happened probably came close to the greatest aviation disaster in history,” Aimer said.

Audio from the airport’s traffic control tower, which was archived online and reviewed by The Times, reveals more details of how the incident unfolded as the plane approached.

Air Canada pilot: Tower Air Canada 759 I can see lights on the runway there. Can you confirm we’re clear to land?

Control tower: Air Canada 759 confirmed cleared to land on 28-right. There is no one on 28-right but you.

Air Canada pilot: OK, Air Canada 759.


Unknown: Where is this guy going? He’s on the taxiway!

Control tower: Air Canada, go around.

The FAA said the air traffic controller told the Air Canada jet to circle around and make another approach.

Air Canada pilot: Going around. Air Canada 759.

Control tower: Air Canada, it looks like you were lined up for Charlie there. Fly heading 280. Climb maintain 3,000.

Air Canada pilot: Heading 2-8-0, 3,000. Air Canada 759.


United pilot: United One, Air Canada flew directly over us.

Control tower: Yeah, I saw that guys.

The aircraft then landed at the airport without incident at 12:11 a.m. Saturday, about 50 minutes later than scheduled, according to the online flight path.

Twitter: @JosephSerna


Twitter: @MattHjourno


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