Video Footage Of AC759’s Near Disaster At SFO

As I first wrote about over two weeks ago, on Friday, July 7, 2017, an Air Canada flight had an incident at SFO. The A320 was flying from Toronto to San Francisco, and accidentally lined up with the taxiway instead of the runway. To make matters worse, there were four planes on the taxiway that were waiting to take off (a United 787 headed to Singapore, a Philippine Airlines A340 headed to Manila, a United 787 headed to Sydney, and a United 737 headed to Orlando), so you can imagine how much fuel they had.

The Air Canada pilots were clearly confused, because on final approach they asked air traffic control to confirm that the runway was clear, because they saw lights on it. Air traffic control confirmed the runway was clear. The Air Canada plane only realized it was about to land on the taxiway when the pilots of one of the planes waiting for takeoff told ATC what was going on.

Initially we thought this was a close call, though we didn’t actually know how close of a call it was. A week after the incident, data emerged about just how close of a call this really was. Data obtained at the time suggests that the plane was less than 50 feet above the tail of the plane on the taxiway, which is insane.

While I had seen recreations of the incident, it looks like there’s actual footage of what happened. Unfortunately it’s not a full video, but rather just frames, but it gives you a great sense of just how close this was. Here it is:

Just… wow. You can find the full NTSB report here.

(Tip of the hat to Woodrow)

Comments

  1. WOW. That’s much, much lower than I had expected… Thankfully the UA pilot said something and quick reaction by the tower avoided a major, major catastrophe.

  2. @Lucky – “Video footage”?? “Pictures” would have been way more accurate (or “frames”, as you call it near the end of the post). Clickbate. :/

  3. W.O.W.

    I’m out of words. A few more seconds late and this would’ve turn really ugly…very ugly.

  4. “The Air Canada plane only realized it was about to land on the taxiway when the pilots of one of the planes waiting for takeoff told ATC what was going on.”

    This is only speculation at this point. It’s possible that they were alerted by the second plane turning on their landing lights. Or that they realized the problem before either of those, and just took time to spool up into a climb.

  5. The AC pilot needs to be fired immediately and never allowed to fly again.

    You have to be a dimwitted moron to line up with a taxiway and not the runway on a clear night. Why haven’t we heard anything on this pilot since the report came out?

  6. Precisely. The reason the aviation system is so safe is because people in the industry know that knee jerk responses of “fire the supposedly responsible” is not done so that a calm systematic examination of all the factors that cause an event are found and corrected to prevent future mishaps.

  7. “so you can imagine how much fuel they had.”

    With a less fuel-centric point of view, i’d rather imagined how many lives were on board of those four planes and the AC flight: around 900-1000. Luckily, everybody is unhurt and i guess most of those passengers and crews didn’t know they were in big danger.

    (For those, with more fuelistic approach, the only wasted fuel during this incident was due to the AC”s go-around.)

  8. Amazing how everyone maintains their composure so well, including the united pilot who was a second away from being wiped off the face of the planet. That was an impressive deadpan. These guys are either highly trained, experienced, and unfazable, or they’re drugged up.

  9. This was three pictures. Three. Or “images” as my photography friends call them when they get mad at me for calling them pictures. But either way, “video” is realllllly stretching it.

  10. I saw those photos already in several news outlets… When I saw the title I thought it was something different, but really it was the same three photos put in a YouTube video.

  11. CR, it is obvious that you’ve never flown a Cessna at night, much less a jet. You have not at 3am on your local time, when your circadian cycle has hit its low point. By the nature of the job, pilots must often be in the air on the back of the clock.

    Your approach basically amounts to throw a tantrum and call it done. Nothing is learned, no chain of causation is uncovered, and eventually the multiple root causes ignored by said tantrum method appear in another incident. It does motivate people to cover incidents rather than report and discuss them. Fortunately, that approach was rejected decades ago.
    The pilot in question has over twenty thousand airline hours. That’s twenty thousand hours in which no airline saw a reason to consider him as a hazard. Clearly, he made a mistake which was caught much later than it should have been. The correct question to ask is “how can a pilot with 20,000 good hours make this error in that particular approach?” That will be a long investigation, and probably (it is to be hoped) lead to changes beyond a technical band-aid.

  12. Lower than I thought as well.

    Technically, these are still images and not video so a different headline for the post would be more accurate.

  13. @Kevin

    I take the comments on fuel to be quite descriptive of how explosive (literally) things could have ended up if the landing was not aborted, and consequently the number of lives that were at imminent risk. I didn’t read that as a concern over fuel wastage! More fuel, more chances of large fires, more risk to all the human lives on board all aircraft and any nearby airport operations.

  14. When there was a report on an Air India incident where the pilots forgot to retract the landing gear, somebody on OMAAT commented about it being expected from airlines from “third-world countries!” Ahermm…

    My point is, comments like that are just ignorant and discriminatory. Errors can happen in any cockpit. What “world” does Air Canada belong to, now?

  15. Imagine what’s in those PAL pilot’s heads when they saw those aircraft lights at twelve o’clock high…….

  16. @Warren, if you actually read the report you will see that the Air Canada pilots initiated the go-around themselves, a couple of seconds prior to the instruction to go-around.

  17. Accept the fact that all humans are subject to accident by error, the degree of which is measured in terms of loss of life or property, real or potential. Commercial aircraft should be required to lock on to an ILS (localizer) regardless of weather conditions. This would have prevented Air Canada from visually lining up to anything other than the runway.

  18. I mean technically video is just a series of photos shown at varying speeds. So this is just a video with an extremely low FPS (uh, ~0.2 fps). Lighten up people. I hadn’t seen these images yet, so thank you for posting.

  19. I flew a light aircraft (single engine) for 13 years and did some very limited night flying. Here to tell you, it can be ultra freaking confusing, and I can really see that with the LEFT runway at SFO lights turned OFF, the AC guys assumed that taxiway was the runway. Yes, lit differently, but when your mind expects to see something and ‘something’ is there, you have the genesis for this very near miss. It would have been close to the largest disaster in aviation history.

  20. I know I’m simplying echoing what has already been said, however, I really had no idea that they were that close to causing what would have been one of the worst disasters in aviation history.

    Whichever of the pilots radioed ATC is a hero. If I were a pilot I would probably be too focussed on the take-off, and feel pretty safe on a taxiway, to notice.

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