Air traffic controllers described this week's runway encounter as "the closest call they have seen at LAX in seven years." A small passenger jet speeding into its take-off missed colliding with a just-landed airliner "by as little as 25 feet" (Daily Breeze) or "less than 50 feet" (Times.) Close enough. "It was ugly," said Diane Aceves, who represents the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at the LAX tower. "My stomach hurts just talking about it." First Doug Irving in the Breeze, which covers the airport more closely than any other newspaper or wire:
The two planes were using a set of runways that has been the scene of three dozen close calls between aircraft since 2000. In fact, a massive $333 million project to reconfigure those runways and give airplanes more room to maneuver was to get under way early this morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, an America West shuttle with enough seats for 50 passengers landed on the outer of the two runways. Its path to the terminal was supposed to take it across the inner runway, but an air traffic controller told the pilot to wait on an adjacent taxiway for clearance.
The pilot confirmed those instructions but failed to stop in time. The jet rolled "clearly onto the other runway," Aceves said -- just as a SkyWest turboprop plane carrying as many as 30 passengers accelerated for takeoff.
The controller saw the jet cross onto the runway and warned the pilot of the turboprop, which may have had to take off early to avoid a collision. The Federal Aviation Administration estimated that the two planes came within less than 150 feet of each other; controllers said it may have been as little as 25 feet.
Jennifer Oldham in the Times reports that "horrified controllers watched the incident unfold from the LAX tower." An excerpt of her piece follows, and for the record CityBeat reported last month on Los Angeles International leading the nation in "runway incursions."
The incident began about 4 p.m. Wednesday, after America West Flight 6008 from Phoenix landed on the airport's southernmost runway. Controllers instructed the pilot to leave the runway on a taxiway known as "Mike" and stop short of the inner runway.
Even though the pilot read back the instructions correctly, he drove onto the inner runway and into the path of a departing United Express turboprop, said Laura Brown, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman....
"Traffic unauthorized crossing downfield!" a controller yelled into the radio to warn the United Express pilot, who told authorities that he pulled up early after hearing the transmission.
Brown said the United Express pilot was "past the point where he could have stopped."
"It was fortunate in this case that the air traffic controller noticed the conflict and immediately alerted the pilot," she said, adding that a preliminary FAA investigation showed the vertical distance between the two aircraft was "less than 150 feet."
United Express Flight 6037 to Monterey, Calif., was taking off less than halfway down the runway in what's known as an "intersection departure."
Because of the incident, the city's airport agency said Friday that it will call a meeting of the FAA, pilots and airline officials to review "specifically whether midfield takeoffs are in the best interests of everyone's safety."
At the time, a collision alert system at the tower was malfunctioning, though it is not certain it could have spotted the potential for disaster in time anyway.
CityBeat reference added