Newly released video shows just how close an Air Canada Airbus A320 came to mistakenly landing on a crowded taxiway at San Francisco International Airport last year.
In the nighttime video, the Air Canada plane appears to be on a collision course with aircraft that were waiting on the taxiway, when air traffic controllers urgently demanded the pilots abort the landing.
The Air Canada airliner can be seen descending as it travels along the top of the frame. About 67 seconds into the video, the plane rises quickly, barely missing a passenger jet on the runway that has just turned on its lights.
The video was released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board as part of the official opening of the public docket as the investigation into the incident continues – an incident that some aviation experts say only narrowly avoided being one of the worst in aviation history.
Air Canada Flight 759 had been cleared to land on runway 28L but instead mistakenly lined up for the parallel taxiway C, which was occupied by four airliners awaiting clearance to take off.
NTSB data revealed that as the Air Canada plane overflew the first waiting aircraft on the taxiway – a United Airlines Boeing 787 – the crew applied full power to the engines to initiate a go-around and abort its landing. However, the plane continued to descend while waiting for the throttle to respond and at its lowest point was only 59 feet above the ground. For comparison, the height of a Boeing 787 tail is 56 feet.
The second airliner on the taxiway – a Philippine Airlines Airbus A340 – reportedly turned on its landing lights, sensing something wasn’t right and hoping to make itself visible to the incoming Air Canada airliner, according to the NTSB.
The investigation has revealed that the flight crew of the Air Canada flight informed the NTSB that there was confusion over the runway configuration and landing lights at SFO, and the crew can even be heard querying the control tower to ensure that they were cleared to land.
The Air Canada crew explained to the NTSB “that something did not look right to them,” which caused them to initiate the go-around just before being told to do so by the air traffic controllers.
The air traffic control recordings reveal the United Airlines crew commenting on the apparent attempt to land on the taxiway by the Air Canada flight, asking “where’s this guy going?”
The NTSB has also said that a system designed to monitor ground traffic at San Francisco International Airport lost the inbound Air Canada flight for approximately 12 seconds, only subsequently reacquiring it as the plane overflew the first waiting airliner on the taxiway.
The Air Canada captain has more than 20,000 flight hours and almost 4,800 as a captain of an Airbus A320. The first officer has 10,000 flight hours, according to the NTSB.