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Pilots narrowly avert world’s worst airborne disaster

October 23, 2013 Aviation, Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Two B747 jets (one from Lufthansa and the other from British Airways) were certainly not playing chicken when they flew towards each other over Scotland, but they recorded an alarming near-miss, coming close to a collision that would have been the worst mid-air disaster in aviation history.

It would also have been the worst accident involving two aircraft ever. Between them, the two planes were carrying about 800 passengers.

Investigators are working to understand how the four pilots involved (two in each plane), when notified by air traffic control that their planes were too close and told to take immediate evasive action – instead turned their planes towards each other. sarawak250x250

Investigators have concluded the pilots either “misheard or misinterpreted” the instructions they were given while flying about 50 kilometres north of Glasgow, Britain’s Independent newspaper has reported.

An extensive official review of the incident has revealed that the two aircraft passed within 100 feet (30.4 metres) of each other vertically and less than three nautical miles (5.5 kilometres) horizontally, on 23 June 2013.

That’s much closer than the safe minimum. The really scary part is that a crash was averted mainly because the pilots on each aircraft saw each other. They took urgent evasive action to avoid collision, with one plane climbing and the other diving.

A report from the UK Airprox Board (UKAB), responsible for analysing all such incidents in the skies over Britain, says the two 747s were both preparing to head westward across the Atlantic and were flying at the same altitude – 34,000 feet.

Noticing that their paths looked set to converge, Scottish air traffic controllers immediately told the 747 on the left to turn left, and the plane on the right to turn right. This should have taken the aircraft further apart. Yet for reasons still inexplicable, the pilots did the opposite. Each followed the instructions meant for the other plane – putting their aircraft on convergent paths – a collision course.

Bizarrely, the pilots correctly acknowledged the air traffic control instructions before going on to do the exact opposite, an eerily mirror-like and potentially catastrophic error.

Seeing what was happening, air traffic control urgently told one pilot to descend immediately and the other to climb. One pilot reported “traffic in sight” having spotted the oncoming plane. That sight would really have concentrated their minds.

Typical cruise speed at that altitude is about 0.85 Mach (567 mph or 913 km/h) – so two planes flying towards each other have a combined closing speed of about 1134 mph, or 1826 km/h.

“It was apparent that both crews had taken each other’s instructions, and the Board found it hard to determine why this had occurred,” the report said, dryly.

UKAB found that no blame could be placed with the air traffic controllers.

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jussi says:

    Juuso, read this, so scary!

  2. Eero says:

    Juuso, read this, so scary. e

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