A landing plane's close call in San Francisco last Friday is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Air Canada Flight 759 from Toronto landed on the taxiway at San Francisco International Airport, which parallels its runway. The airliner carrying 140 people managed to land safely, avoiding a potential crash with other planes using the taxiway to wait for takeoff.
In an audio recording of the conversation with traffic control, the pilot flying the Air Canada jet told the airport he saw the lights on the runway, KNTV reported. When the air traffic controller saw the plane was heading for Taxiway C with four others planes waiting on it, he ordered it to abort the landing and try again.
The flight eventually circled around the airport and landed without incident, the FAA said.
Aviation expert Barry Schiff told the San Francisco Chronicle that a pilot attempting to land on a taxiway rather than a runway is rare because runway lights are always white, particularly clear at night, and are the same around the world.
"When we hear about something like that, as pilots we do wonder how in the hell that can happen," Schiff told the Chronicle. "It's really difficult to understand how two professional pilots can look out their window and mistake a taxiway for a runway."
Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines captain and chief executive of Aero Consulting Experts, told the San Jose Mercury News that the incident could have been one of the worst in history.
"If it is true, what happened probably came close to the greatest aviation disaster in history," Aimer told the Mercury News. "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."
Air Canada said in a statement that it is also investigating the incident.
"Air Canada flight AC759 from Toronto was preparing to land at San Francisco airport Friday night when the aircraft initiated a go-around," the Air Canada statement said. "The aircraft landed normally without incident. We are still investigating the circumstances and therefore have no additional information to offer."
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