A Near Miss of Potentially Grave Proportions

Editorial note—this blog is more appropriate for seasoned aviators rather than the casual reader.  My apologies; I promise to return to a more relaxed writing style tomorrow.

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This morning, a Lufthansa Airbus 340 with 286 passengers onboard almost collided with an Egypt Air Boeing 777. The event was the result of a runway incursion of incredible magnitude. It frightened many people in the know, including other airline pilots and air traffic controllers at JFK International Airport in New York.


(Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wtlfmvbp2jo.)

A controller became so rattled he lost his phraseology and called for the departing aircraft to, “Cancel takeoff! Cancel takeoff plans,” rather than the more appropriate, “Takeoff clearance canceled.” After the frantic calls from the controller, the Lufthansa Flight 411 crew rejected their takeoff.

Apparently, the EgyptAir crew missed the turn onto taxiway Bravo, a taxiway that paralleled runway 22R.  On 22R, the Lufthansa Airbus 340 had already begun its takeoff roll.  When EgyptAir 986 crossed the hold short line leading onto the intersection of taxiway Juliet and runway 22R, either they realized their error and stopped, or possibly, they heard one of the ground controllers over the frequency crying out, “No! Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa!”

At the same time, the one controller yelled out to no aircraft in particular, to cancel takeoff plans and evidently, the Lufthansa crew realized they were the aircraft in extremis.  They aborted the takeoff of their heavy airliner and were able to stop the airplane, luckily a considerable distance from the Boeing.

After getting the aircraft under control on the runway, they taxied clear of the runway at taxiway Hotel and waited for Port Authority technicians to check the aircraft for overheated brakes.  After the technicians declared the brakes safe, Flight 411 taxied back to the terminal for a short time and later departed for Munich.

The FAA is looking into the matter and will more than likely issue a pilot deviation to the EgyptAir pilots.  They were responsible for the event when they taxied their aircraft within 250 feet of an active runway.

Had the Lufthansa crew missed the radio transmission and not aborted their takeoff, the accident would have been very reminiscent of the crash between KLM 4805 and Pan Am 1736. On March 27, 1977, the two Boeing 747s collided in the fog while trying to depart the island of Tenerife.

On that day, 583 people lost their lives as the result of a breakdown in communications and the arrogance of the KLM captain.

-30-

© 2011 J. Clark

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6 Responses to A Near Miss of Potentially Grave Proportions

  1. Jeremy says:

    The controller didn’t say “Cancel takeoff plans.” Listen to the tower recording at liveatc.net . It is most definitely “cancel takeoff clearance” with a strong New York accent. The word “clearance” is said almost as one syllable so you really only hear the “rance” part of it – which apparently sounded like “plans” to the AP writer who quoted this in the stories circulating about this incident.

    • Joe Clark says:

      Hi Jeremy, nice to meet you if only over the Internet.

      Actually, he did say cancel takeoff plans. In the Youtube hyperlink posted above, at 19 seconds you can hear him say, “Cancel takoff,” followed immediately by, “Cancel takeoff plans.”

      What I wrote was in no way meant as detrimental to the controller. I have been in some serious (“Uh-oh, I am going to die in the next few minutes!) situations where I uttered things I could not believe I said–after the fact.

      Are you a controller? Do you fly? I hope you have enjoyed flying as I and a lot of other readers have.

      • Joe Clark says:

        Jeremy, after listening to it again, you might be right. But it sure sounds like “plans.” Sitting here listening to it over and over again, I think I hear “plans,” rather than “-rance.”

        Anyone else? What do you guys and gals hear in the tape?

        • Jeremy says:

          Hi Jo,

          I’m a lapsed private pilot in Sydney, Australia (used to fly out of Bankstown Airport, YSBK) and though I haven’t flown in a few years, I still follow aviation matters quite a bit. I enjoy listening to liveatc.net for example.

          I understand what you’re saying, about how the controller sounds on the recording and I don’t really blame the reporters – who aren’t necessarily aviation experts – for misunderstanding it. But my feeling is that the controller – who is used to saying “clearance” (or “cleared”) dozens if not hundreds of times per day, would not ever say “plans” – even in the “heat of the battle” common words are more likely to be used. As far as the actual recording I think I can hear the “cl” consonant – to me what he says is similar to “clarnce” (one syllable).

          Not sure it really matters that much it was just an interesting point as I saw this same confusion in several articles.

          On this specific incident, if you haven’t listened to the ground audio over at liveatc.net, it’s worth a click:
          http://www.liveatc.net/forums/atcaviation-audio-clips/cancelled-take-off-clearance-jfk/15/

          You can hear as three or four controllers in the background all notice the incursion and yell out “whoa” or similar exlamations, as the tower controller (also in the background) cancels the clearance. It’s pretty scary… and the ground controller can’t seem to get a word in edgewise to EgyptAir due to overtransmissions.

          • Joe Clark says:

            Jeremy,

            Have you had a chance to read some of Dave’s blog about learning to fly? (He is also from Australia). His blog is MidLifePilot’s Flying Blog on my blog roll to the right.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Yep, I think that must be how I got here, from his link. Thanks!

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