On 6th December 1999 at Theodore Francis Green State Airport, near Providence, Rhode Island a Boeing 757 (callsign UAL1448) was involved in a runway incursion in which a major catastrophe was narrowly averted.
The incident occurred in dark, foggy conditions, at about 8:35pm with reduced visibility of approximately 400 metres. With poor visibility from the tower and no surface movement radar, radio communication was the only way ATC could positively identify each aircrafts location.
An error made by UAL1448 while taxiing in reduced visibility, and subsequent poor communication between ATC and the UAL1448 crew, created a situation in which a major runway collision was imminent.
Key chain of events:
1. United 1448 (a Boeing 757) made an incorrect turn on taxiway Bravo, which led the aircraft back to the active runway (05R).
2. Unaware of the situation, Providence Tower clears FedEx1662 (a Boeing 727) for take-off.
3. The airborne B727 narrowly misses the B757, which comes to a halt infringing the active runway.
4. During the subsequent transmissions, a confused and abrupt ATC twice clears another aircraft (a Boeing 737 - US2998) for take-off while the runway is obstructed.
5. The crew of US2998 exhibit exceptional decision making by rejecting the take-off clearance and opting to hold clear of all runways until they can “figure out what’s going on down there”.
(video embedded from YouTube on 23 September 2011)
If it were not for the situational awareness and astute decision making under pressure by the crew of US2998, an accident similar in nature to the Tenerife disaster may have occurred. The attitude of the ground controller throughout the incident, particularly with regards to expediting traffic in the face of numerous safety warnings must be questioned.
Want to know more?
- for a report on safety issues regarding runway incursions
- Airport Runway Accidents and Incidents