It could have been the “greatest aviation disaster in history.”
On July 7, Air Canada Flight 759 narrowly missed landing on a taxiway filled with four fully-loaded (fuel and passengers) wide-body planes at San Francisco International Airport. The flight was cleared for the appropriate runway—28R—but it lined up with the wrong piece of tarmac, taxiway C. An air traffic controller reportedly caught the mistake and asked Flight 759’s pilot and co-pilot, both seasoned professionals, to divert in the nick of time.
In the end, the flight landed safely—but not before overflying one plane and descending below 100 feet above ground.
On Wednesday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issued an update to its investigation of the incident.
The details will raise your eyebrows. The photo? Well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
“Runway 28L was closed to accommodate construction; its approach and runway lights were turned off, and a 20.5-ft-wide lighted flashing X (runway closure marker) was placed at the threshold,” the NTSB report states. “Runway and approach lighting for runway 28R were on and set to default settings, which included a 2,400-foot approach lighting system, a precision approach path indicator, touchdown zone lights (white), runway centerline lights (white at the approach end), runway threshold lights (green), and runway edge lights (white at the approach end).”
“Both pilots said, in post-incident interviews, they believed the lighted runway on their left was 28L and that they were lined up for 28R. They also stated that they did not recall seeing aircraft on taxiway C but that something did not look right to them.”
The NTSB’s corresponding diagram, created from Harris Symphony OpsVue radar track data analysis, shows the positions of the aircraft at SFO. The photo, a frame from an official SFO video, shows the Air Canada airplane passing over a United Airlines aircraft. (The text in between them is from a transmission to air traffic control from a United Airlines airplane on the taxiway.)
The NTSB notes that this information “does not provide probable cause for the incident” and that the investigation continues.
Whatever the case: Yikes.