Cock­pit au­dio from S.F. air­port in­ci­dent is lost

Record­ing from jet that nearly landed on taxi­way was writ­ten over, in­ves­ti­ga­tors say.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Joseph Serna and Matt Hamil­ton joseph.serna@la­times.com matt.hamil­ton @la­times.com

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 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 and make an­other ap­proach.

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 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 f light hours and his co-pi­lot has about 10,000, the NTSB said.

Ross Aimer, a re­tired United 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’ve been hor­rific.

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

Au­dio from the air­port’s traf­fic con­trol tower, which was archived on­line and re­viewed by The Times, re­veals more de­tails.

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: OK, Air Canada 759.

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

Con­trol: Air Canada, go around.

Air Canada: Go­ing around. Air Canada 759.

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

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

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

Con­trol: Yeah, I saw that guys.

The air­craft then landed with­out in­ci­dent at 12:11 a.m.

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