An Air Canada plane attempting to land at San Francisco International Airport with 140 people on board came within metres of crashing onto four planes lined up on the taxiway for takeoff last week, according to a preliminary report Canadian air safety regulators released Thursday.
Air Canada flight 759 from Toronto to San Francisco came within 30 metres of what could have been one of the worst disasters in aviation history, according to the brief preliminary summary of the July 7 incident released by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB).
“This information is preliminary and is subject to change,” cautioned Alexandre Fournier, a spokesperson for the TSB.
Instead of lining up the aircraft to land on the runway after being cleared for landing by the air traffic controller, it appeared that the Air Canada pilot mistakenly descended towards a taxiway that runs parallel to the runway.
A recording of conversations between the air traffic control tower and the pilots involved in the incident offered a dramatic window into the incident.
“Where is this guy going? He’s on the taxiway,” the pilot of one of the planes on the ground could be heard warning the control tower in a recording posted online.
The Air Canada pilot was quickly told to go around and complied, pulling up and overflying the first two planes by just 30 metres and the third and fourth aircraft by 60 metres and 90 metres respectively.
“Air Canada flew directly over us,” a United Airlines pilot could be heard saying later.
“Yeah I saw that, guys,” added another voice.
The report said the “closest lateral proximity” of the Air Canada jet to one the planes on the taxiway was roughly nine metres.
The plane landed safely on another approach. The incident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S.