“Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway.”
On Friday, an Air Canada pilot narrowly avoided landing on the San Francisco International Airport taxiway instead of the runway. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, four planes, each filled with passengers and fuel, were sitting on Taxiway C awaiting takeoff when the Air Canada Airbus 320 nearly landed.
An air traffic controller quickly diverted the disaster by sending the plane on what is known as a “go-around,” The Mercury News reported, where the plane must pull up and circle again before attempting to land.
“If it is true, what happened probably came close to the greatest aviation disaster in history,” retired United Airlines Capt. Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, told the Bay Area news outlet. “If you could imagine an Airbus colliding with four passenger aircraft wide bodies, full of fuel and passengers, then you can imagine how horrific this could have been.”
Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesman, said the company is still investigating the circumstances around the incident and had no additional information to offer other than the fact that the flight from Toronto “landed normally without incident” after the go-around.
Though the FAA is still investigating how close the airplane came to landing, an official noted that the pilot was flying the plane manually on a clear night and “lined up wrong” to the runway.
In the audio from the airport, which can be heard above, an unidentified voice, which The Mercury News identifies as another pilot, can be heard saying, “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway.”
The air controller then tells the Air Canada pilot to pull the go-around maneuver and adds, “It looks like you were lined up for Charlie (Taxiway C) there.”
A United Airlines pilot then says, “United One, Air Canada flew directly over us.”
Aimer said the event is being talked about throughout the aviation community.
“This is pretty huge. My buddies called and asked if I knew about it,” he said. “They’re a sitting duck on the taxiway. They can’t go anywhere.”