IRVINE, CALIF., OCT. 18 -- A last-minute warning from an air traffic controller helped the pilot of an American Airlines jet narrowly avoid colliding with a small private plane, authorities said.

The near-collision occurred at 2:14 p.m. Saturday, two minutes after American Airlines Flight 2041, carrying 34 passengers and five crew members, had taken off from John Wayne Airport en route to Oakland, American Airlines officials said.

The pilot of the British Aerospace BAe-146 jet was approaching 1,800 feet on an ascent to 3,000 feet over Irvine, three miles south of the airport, when the controller told him to "stop climb immediately due to traffic at 1,800 feet," FAA duty officer Larry Berg said.

The pilot stopped climbing, quickly veered to the right and then told the controller, "Thanks for saving our lives," Berg said.

The FAA had no estimate on how far the four-engine turbofan jet was from the single-engine Cessna, but American Airlines spokesman John Hotard said the two craft were about 200 feet apart.

Authorities had not determined the identity of the pilot of the private plane, nor did they know if it was equipped with a device which emits a signal monitored by controllers.