Probe fo­cuses on pilots in near-crash

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NA­TIONAL -

In­ves­ti­ga­tors look­ing into the fright­en­ingly close call in­volv­ing an air­liner that nearly hit planes on the ground at San Fran­cisco In­ter­na­tional Air­port will try to de­ter­mine why the pilots made such a rookie mis­take and nearly landed on a busy taxi­way in­stead of the runway.

The Air Canada plane with 140 peo­ple aboard came within 100 feet of crash­ing onto the first two of four pas­sen­ger-filled planes ready­ing for take­off.

Run­ways are edged with rows of white lights, and an­other sys­tem of lights on the side of the runway helps guide pilots on their de­scent. By con­trast, taxi­ways have blue lights on the edges and green lights down the cen­ter.

“The light­ing is dif­fer­ent for good rea­son,” said Steven Wal­lace, a for­mer di­rec­tor of ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions at the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Some of these vis­ual mis­takes are hard to be­lieve, but a crew gets fix­ated with think­ing ‘That’s the runway,’ and it’s not.”

Then there is the ra­dio trans­mis­sion in which one of the Air Canada pilots sounded puz­zled about see­ing what ap­peared to be the lights of other planes on the runway. Safety ex­perts said that should have prompted the crew to abort their ap­proach long be­fore they did.

Pilots said so-called glide slope tech­nol­ogy in mod­ern air­lin­ers also should have helped the crew find the runway un­less they failed to set it up as they ap­proached the air­port.

“This was a clear crew er­ror with many facets, I sus­pect,” said Alan Price, a for­mer chief pi­lot for Delta.

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