Did An EVA Air 777 Nearly Crash Into A Mountain After Departing LAX?

It looks like the EVA Air 777-300ER flight this past Friday morning from Los Angeles to Taipei had quite a bit of excitement, and it wasn’t the pilots’ fault… at least not initially.

The weather in Los Angeles wasn’t good, and the 777 was departing towards the east (rather than towards the west, out over the ocean). The pilots read back the instructions they understood from ATC, which ended up being incorrect, though ATC didn’t correct them. Then ATC was shocked when they saw the plane was headed in the wrong direction, though it took the pilots over a minute to correct their course, putting them on a heading towards a mountain range and an Air Canada plane. Per ABC7:

That sent the airliner toward the mountains above Altadena, as well as toward the flight path of an Air Canada plane that had just taken off.

Audio traffic indicates the same controller realizing the problem and telling the airliner to “Stop your climb” and several times to head southbound.

“EVA 015 Heavy, what are you doing? Turn southbound now, southbound now. Stop your climb,” the frustrated controller says after the plane apparently does not heed her initial instruction.

Several times the controller tells the pilot to head south. More than a minute later, she is still trying to get him to change direction.

The EVA crew eventually pulled up and got onto the right flight path.

Most concerning is that the flight apparently just missed a mountain range by a few hundred feet. Per JACDEC:

According to ADSB tracking data, flight BR 15 barely cleared the mountaintops and was flying just south of Mt. Wilson Observatory (5,715 ft) at an altitude of about 6,250 ft. before the flight gets back into safe airspace. The Boeing 777-300 then picked up its assigned route and landed safely at Taipei 14 h 17 min later.

Not that I trust the mainstream media to report on incidents like this especially well, but here’s their coverage, which also has some ATC audio:

The FAA is formally investigating this, so I’ll be curious to see what comes of the investigation. Based on the ATC transcript, though:

  • The controller told the pilots to turn to a heading of 180, though it didn’t seem to transmit whether it was supposed to be a left or right turn
  • The pilots repeated that they should turn left heading 180, and they weren’t corrected (it appears they were supposed to turn right to that heading, so if ATC had been paying attention to their read back, this could have been avoided)
  • The air traffic controller uses a lot of non-standard phrases — rather than telling the plane to turn to a specific heading, the controller says “what are you doing? turn southbound,” so it’s possible there was something lost in translation

Per Flightradar24, here’s the flight path the plane took on departure:

eva-777

Fortunately everything ended without incident, though it seems this was a fairly close call, given that the plane apparently only cleared a mountain by about 500 feet.

(Tip of the hat to Andrew B)

Comments

  1. Geez! Hope my girl doesn’t read this.
    We’re booked on BR15 in February and she’s already scared as hell just for the time flying

  2. Thanks for posting this Lucky. I actually live in Pasadena, and when I saw this on the news last night, I told myself to make sure to check OMAAT for more information on what happened. Thank you! I appreciate it!

  3. all the news covers are asking what LAX’s ATC was doing, and yet all the comments here blame the airline? you should at least google “top 10 safest airlines in the world” before accusing anything.

  4. Listen closely and read the other news coverage. The Air Traffic Controller told them to turn the wrong direction. She has been suspended. It is her fault entirely.

  5. As an aside. She sounds like she is from the ghetto and has little polish. She says “what are you doing” instead of ATC lingo.

  6. Based on what I am being presented here (and on other websites), it appears to me that the ATC controller did a pretty shoddy job in directing this aircraft. First, she gave the wrong heading. That’s what appears to have started this. Then she’s on there using phrases that make it sound as if she’s talking with someone on the street. That’s not SOP for ATC, nor should it be. The EVA crew probably didn’t know what to make of that.

    All that said, I also find it hard to imagine that the crew failed to notice the mountain range that was directly in their path. All parties involved should be under investigation for this. And, I didn’t care for the way that KABC slanted the report to make it sound as if the crew was totally at fault. Based on the evidence, this wasn’t all their fault.

  7. I agree that it appears the ATC was not clear in their instructions. It appears that ATC ASSUMED that if a plane is heading 270 and is instructed to head 180, they aren’t going to take a left to get to 180. Perhaps it is a cultural issue, as Asian pilots don’t seem to use ‘common sense’ when they make decisions as per the Air Asia crash at SFO.

  8. Sack the ATC woman – oh wait a minute she sounds she is from a “diverse” community so she won’t be sacked.,.,

  9. “Not that I trust the mainstream media to report on incidents like …”

    Given what passes for completely fake news as compared to what the mainstream media puts out, I find this a very irresponsible statement, basically encouraging your readers not to trust reports. I realized they may refer the airplane incorrectly and you probably know more about aviation than the LA beat reporter (which you should explain if that’s your objection), but encouraging distrust of institutions does your readers a disservice.

  10. @Kevin, They are not necessarily flying the direct route to VTU. It’s all depend on traffic condition (As there is departing Air Canada flight from north runway 6L/R, so left turn will probably cause conflict) and nature of the aircraft (Their turning and climbing ability, noise level restriction, etc). That’s why ‘Radar vector’ is in the instruction. ATC instructed them heading 180 but did not mention turn direction, as the standard lingo should be “Turn right heading 180 and climb to XX altitude”, and followed by a series of errors mentioned in the post.
    Flight CI007 also op by 77W flew the same VTU7 SID with right hand turn after departure.
    http://flightaware.com/live/flight/CAL7/history/20161216/0725Z/KLAX/RCTP
    https://www.flightradar24.com/data/flights/ci7/#be7f158

  11. The visibility due to the rain storm could be an issue for the pilots not to see the mountain range. It was also a late night departure from LAX. The lady at the ATC made an error and EVA pilots were following her instructions. If you listen to the original recording of the event, (I am sure it available online somewhere) you can tell Ch. 7 news was cutting some of the audios where EVA pilots were repeating what she was instructing them to do. The news clip made it sound like EVA pilots were not responding. Just glad no passengers were injured.

  12. Wait..What the EVA pilots couldn’t speak Ebonics? Based on the audio, it seemed that the EVA pilot had a mastery of the English language, but ATC’s lack of proper phraseology, probably caused confusion among the non-native speaking pilots. Seems to mainly be an ATC issue to me.

  13. Well I have heard a lot of ATC audios and seems like ATC controllers in the US are the least professional with ATC phrases and terms. In this case, she would need to instruct the pilot to turn to XXX degree and maintain flight level XXX immediately instead of saying “stop ur climb”, “turn southbound” and “what are u doing”. Has she even been trained to use proper ATC English phrase and expression before getting the jobs at all? Seriously if that’s how professional the ATC controllers are in the US then I’ll try my best to avoid flights to and from the US at all cost.

  14. Why would the controller tell the pilots to “stop your climb”?

    If there were mountains ahead wouldn’t they want to accelerate their climb, in addition to changing heading?

  15. John, I was thinking the same thing. If they really only missed the mountain by 500 feet, and they stopped their climb when she told them to, it seems they may have actually hit the rising terrain. Scary thought!

  16. Lucky, found a better ATC recording than the snippet from ABC news:

    https://youtu.be/tFdXax7Zh_g

    Two thoughts:
    Strange that EVA 015 did not correct their heading after the first correction from ATC. It was also worrying how flustered ATC became. I imagine it would have been hard for the EVA 015 pilot to know with 100% certainty what to do with all the corrections ATC was making.

  17. Lucky, love your work, please keep it coming.

    => So how much longer are you going to continue to allow such a wide range of ongoing racist, sexist, and homophobic comments from the dimwit gallery before instituting some type of moderation on your blog?

    Seriously: how long? What will it take?

  18. What a bunch of racists on this blog! It was either the fault of the “chinamen” EVA pilots or the assumed “Negro” ATC worker. I guess when you are ignorant, everything is explained away by race.

  19. @Daniel: “I find this a very irresponsible statement, basically encouraging your readers not to trust reports.”

    No, as an ATCS I can tell you Lucky is absolutely correct on this front. You should not be trusting reports about ATC coming from people who think that the towers control all the planes.

  20. I just watched the YouTube audio link above. It seemed like the pilots did not know what she meant by “southbound.” In all seriousness, does that term translate? I am saying this because most non-native speakers translate into their native language in their head; thus, if the term was not translatable, then confusion could occur.

    Also, I wonder if lag in the radar returns (primary or not) could have made the controller think that they had not turned south yet; thus, reissuing the instructions and possibly making the pilots second guess the maneuver that they were doing. If you make a course correction and then the controller reissues their request, most people would question what they were currently doing even if it was correct.

  21. Just when Taiwanese aviation seemingly had improved its reputation a bit from the previously horrible track record, this happens. Not great timing.

  22. I’ve been watching a lot of Air Crash Investigations on Youtube. This would have been another installment.

  23. I am former ATC. I can see some flaws in ATC performance with “southbound” thing and ATC phraseology, but pilots ignoring ATC commands for 3 minutes while going straight to the mountains despite confirming to turn right to heading 180 is beyond my comprehension. Seems like EVA pilots either didn’t understand ATC instructions (quite a few) or were either disorientated or too busy following flight plan which leaded to the very close call. Totally pilot’s fault. You shouldn’t be an expert to have the same conclusion after viewing Roy’s post from YouTube https://youtu.be/tFdXax7Zh_g

  24. I think both parties are at fault here… but I am concerned about why the pilot took so long to turn south.

    It’s possible that the pilot was getting tired of the controller getting it wrong and correcting herself so he maintained current course thinking that’s what she intended to say. BUT standard procedure is to ask for clarification if there’s a misunderstanding.

    It could also have been due to radio interference. I don’t know the location well, but traditionally radio transmitters are located in the hills/mountains. Both SouTH and NorTH have a “TH” at the end and it’s possible the pilots weren’t able to clearly hear the instruction.

    At some point in the “go southbound!!!!” conversation, a new NUMERICAL heading should have been issued. That would have clarified everything. Ambiguity is not something to mess with.

    …but I’m armchair quarterbacking here — I have a ~100 hours behind the yoke of a PA-46-500TP, VFR only and not much else.

  25. Additionally, it came within several hundred feet laterally to the TV towers on Mt Wilson that are nearly 1000 feet tall.

  26. Hi all,
    First lets count our stars this didnt turn out worse. I am retired FAA 33 yrs atc. This event started out from the Socal atc radar dept controller female(race doesnt matter) radar identifing eva 015 and telling aircraft to turn left instead of right. Its 1:30 am did the controller work a day shift then back for the midshift? Fatigue and roatating shift work plus lots of overtime add up to a toxic brew. Maybe she is used to 95% of the time departing rwy 25 off off lax turning left south for climb, then west on course. She initiated this event then had to scramble to seperate the air canada plane from eva air. Im sure the eva air pilots were overloaded, in weather, heavy rain, tcas alert for air canada, listening to atc flustered transmissions, confusion, now getting terrain ground proxmity alerts. You also dont tell an ifr jetliner in weather to turn south. You give explicit left/right and heading to fly. Turn southbound is something to telll a small vfr aircraft. Im worried about the state of affairs at the FAA. From what i saw my last few years in ATC., there should be great concern. Controller accountability for errors needs to return, no more slap on the wrist atsap program, true consequences for errors needs to be addressed. We are very lucky here. The pilots need to follow tcas and ground proxmitity warnings, take flight action, then tell atc reponding to alert . The warning systems will keep the planes safe. Only sloppy controlling, one person on a midshift, bad management actions will put them together.

  27. I have over 14 years of flying experience, an ATP license, and am familiar with the Los Angeles airspace. This controller should have been relieved of duty by another controller or asked for help immediately. As Mr. Radtke says, maybe she was working a longer than normal shift. She had the EVA, Air Canada, and American Airlines pilots nervous. You could hear the stress rising in their voices. The EVA pilots were totally confused. Telling pilots to turn southbound is not helpful, especially when they are flying IFR at night and in bad weather. I can only imagine the TCAS and GPWS alarms going off at the same time, which would be enough to concern any pilot. The controller should have told EVA 015 to “turn right heading XXX and climb and maintain 7,000.” Yes indeed, let’s thank our lucky stars that this did not end up in disaster!

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