A Southwest Airlines flight nearly collided 173 feet with an ambulance that crossed the runway without authorization at the Baltimore airport, following a series of alarming mishaps at airports across the country.
The harrowing incident occurred on January 12 at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, but drew attention this week when DC news now Released audio of air traffic controllers frantically telling the vehicle to stop.
According to a FAA report In the incident, the tower told an Airport Fire Fighting and Rescue (ARFF) vehicle to stop on the runway, but read incorrect instructions, which went undetected by ground controllers.
‘ARFF 439 you were supposed to hold short track 15R!’ one of the controllers is heard saying in recently released air traffic control recordings.
The Southwest Boeing 737, which had been cleared for takeoff, proceeded down the runway at around 1:50 p.m. and narrowly missed the rescue truck, which crossed the runway in front of the plane. There were no injuries in the near miss.
A Southwest Airlines flight nearly collided 173 feet with a salvage truck that crossed the runway without authorization at the Baltimore airport on January 12.
A Southwest Airlines flight nearly collided with a rescue truck that crossed the runway without authorization at the Baltimore airport (file photo)
The FAA’s analysis of the incident found that the “closest estimated horizontal separation” between the plane and the truck was a mere 173 feet, less than half the length of a football field.
The FAA classified the near miss as a Category B incident, defined as an incident with ‘significant collision potential’.
A BWI spokesperson said the airport had fully cooperated and shared information with the FAA about the incident.
“A BWI Marshall Airport Fire and Rescue Department fire and medical vehicle crossed a runway without air traffic control clearance,” the statement said.
“Based on the review of the incident, new procedures were immediately put in place to help ensure safety and prevent a similar incident in the future. Safety and security remain top priorities for BWI Marshall Airport,” the spokesperson added.
Southwest said in a statement that its crews follow air traffic control instructions “at all times” and did so in the Baltimore incident.
The incident in Baltimore came to light after the FAA held an emergency summit in McLean, Virginia, last week to address a series of recent safety incidents and near misses.
“There is no question that aviation is incredibly safe, but surveillance can never take a day off,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a post-summit statement.
“We have to ask ourselves difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions, even when we are sure that the system is strong.”
The tower told an Airport Fire Fighting and Rescue (ARFF) vehicle to stop on the runway, but read the wrong instructions, which went undetected by ground controllers.
The incident in Baltimore came to light after the FAA held an emergency summit in McLean, Virginia, last week to address a series of recent security incidents (file photo)
On Saturday, another heartbreaking incident saw a plane almost collides with a helicopter at a southern California airport.
FAA officials said a Southwest flight was approaching a runway at Hollywood Burbank Airport around 9:50 a.m. Saturday when an air traffic controller noticed a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter on the same runway.
According to an FAA statement, the helicopter had been practicing touch-and-go landings. After noticing the problem, the controller told the Boeing 737 to turn around.
No one was injured and the matter is being investigated by the FAA at this time.
The Boeing 737 was Southwest Flight N551WN from Phoenix, which had to turn around and attempt another landing after a near miss ended the first landing attempt.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News last week, Nolen blamed a series of near-runway collisions on “pressures in the system” amid a post-pandemic surge in air travel.
Nolen also revealed that there was another near miss between two planes cleared for takeoff at Ronald Reagan Airport on March 7, bringing the total number this year to seven.
Compared to an average of between four and 10 “serious track events” a year over the past decade, Nolen conceded that the past few months have produced more dangerous incidents “than you might expect.”
Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen called an emergency summit last week to address a series of alarming security mishaps.
On Saturday, another heartbreaking incident saw a plane nearly collide with a helicopter at the Burbank airport in southern California.
“We are coming off the back of this pandemic,” he told NBC Nightly News. ‘And… we’re really seeing a pent-up demand for flights. Flying is back in force, so to speak.
Nolen said “aggressive” hiring efforts have been unable to keep up with the increase in the number of flights that has created “some pressures on the system.”
As airlines see record profits, Nolen said industry bosses need to commit to schedules that “match their capacity and market demands.”
However, he insisted that flying remains “very safe,” noting that there has not been a seriously fatal incident since 2009 when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed en route to Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 passengers and crew.
FAA data shows that there have been fewer overall incidents in the last six months than in the same periods before.
Despite the safety record, many passengers traveling on US airlines have been surprised by the number of planes grounded or diverted due to runway mishaps.
In the latest impact, on March 7, Republic Airlines Flight 4736 nearly collided with United Airlines Flight 2003 after it crossed an unauthorized runway at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
He had been cleared to cross another runway, but the pilot took a wrong turn.
The United flight had been cleared to take off, but a lucky air traffic controller noticed Republic’s mishap just in time and canceled the first one’s takeoff.
“United 2003 cancels takeoff clearance,” the controller said. ‘Aborting takeoff, aborting takeoff United 2003.’
It comes after an American Airlines flight nearly crashed into a Delta plane at JFK, and a landing FedEx cargo plane narrowly avoided a Southwest plane preparing to take off.