An Air Canada flight that narrowly avoided a crowded San Francisco International Airport taxiway this month came within less than 100 feet of the ground when the pilot aborted the landing, a federal investigation revealed Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that the Airbus A-320, which originated in Toronto, had been cleared to land on runway 28R in San Francisco just before midnight July 7, but instead descended on a parallel taxiway with four aircraft lined up on it.
After overshooting the first plane, a Boeing 787, the A-320 plunged below 100 feet, the federal report said, before abruptly climbing and avoiding the three other aircraft in its path.
The other planes awaiting takeoff clearance were an Airbus A-340 and two Boeing models: another 787 and a 737, NTSB said.
After the near miss, the plane with 140 people aboard safely landed “without incident,” an Air Canada spokesman said last week. The airline declined to comment on the new revelations about the botched landing attempt, citing its own investigation into the incident and ongoing investigations by authorities.
An NTSB investigation into the incident began July 9. By Monday, the investigative agency said it had interviewed the Air Canada pilot and had begun interviews with air traffic controllers at San Francisco International Airport. The agency was also interviewing northern California radar controllers.
The first officer, or co-pilot, on the flight will be interviewed Tuesday, NTSB said. The agency added that it had recovered the Air Canada plane’s flight data recorder, and has also obtained security footage from the incident that it expects to release in the coming months.
Interviews with air traffic controllers are expected to wrap up by Wednesday.
The Bay Area Mercury News reported Monday on how the botched landing may have been even worse than initially thought. The plane flew as low as 81 feet, the paper reported, and at that altitude could have come as close as 26 feet from the tail of the third airplane lined up on the runway, a Boeing 737 standing 55 feet tall.
The Mercury News also reported on the harrowing moments before the flight pulled up:
New data obtained exclusively by this news organization also show that the Air Canada plane was just passing over a second fully-loaded Philippine Airlines jet at 106 feet in the air — still continuing his descent — when an SFO air traffic controller finally warned him to abort his landing. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in their initial report that the Air Canada pilot did not begin his “go-around” until the air traffic controller told him to pull up. It took a flight crew member from a jet on the taxiway to alert both the pilot and air traffic controller over the radio of the wayward Airbus 320.
Separately, a California Insurance Commissioner who was aboard the plane, Dave Jones, issued a letter to Air Canada on Monday asking it to keep passengers informed about the results of the investigation. In his letter, Jones said passengers weren’t properly briefed on the situation as it was happening, and the pilot instead “made a nonchalant announcement that he had to go around due to traffic at the airport.”
“As a passenger of Air Canada 759 I believe we have a right to know what happened, why it happened, and what can be done to make sure that no plane and its passengers are placed at such risk of loss again,” Jones wrote.
Information from the Associated Press was used in compiling this report.