Seconds from disaster: easyJet flight from Gatwick carrying 179 people came within 178ft of a plane waiting to take off as it came in to land after traffic control blunder at Bordeaux airport, report finds
- The controller 'forgot' that the plane was waiting to take off while the huge plane was preparing to land
An easyJet passenger plane with 179 people on board came within just 54 meters of another flight as it tried to land in Bordeaux after a controller 'forgot' a plane was already on the runway, a report said.
The Airbus A320, en route from London Gatwick, was preparing to land at Bordeaux-Mérignac airport on New Year's Eve last year when an air traffic control error meant it was allowed to land while another plane was preparing to to take off.
Now a French investigative body has deemed the encounter a 'serious accident'. They watched the ATC, forgetting that the smaller DR400 was on the runway while they cleared the 123-foot A320, weighing up to 172 tons, to land on the same strip.
It was because 'the team leader… had reduced the number of inspectors from six to three on the day of the near miss, an investigation report said. report has been completed by BEA.
Just seven seconds after telling the easyJet flight it was safe to land, a controller instructed them to abort the approach; the plane was now only 40 meters above the ground.
The report mentioned a number of contributions factors allowing the near-disaster to unfold, including a “significant reduction in staffing levels” that left one controller managing four stations simultaneously “which could potentially lead to oversight.”
The investigation concluded that the DR400 pilot's “awareness and proactive action,” intercepting communications and alerting ATC, prevented the error from becoming a potentially devastating accident.
The image shared by the BEA shows the plane descending while the DR400 is still on the tarmac
File image of an easyJet A320 Airbus. One of the company's planes was carrying 179 passengers when it landed at Bordeaux airport last December, narrowly avoiding disaster
A shocking photo in the BEA report showed the approach of the huge A320 aircraft while the DR400 was still on the runway.
The investigation, translated from French, assessed that the controller had cleared the DR400 to proceed to the runway but held its position due to wake turbulence while the easyJet A320 waited for clearance to land.
As traffic became 'very heavy', the controller then cleared the A320 to land, 'forgetting the presence of the DR400 on the threshold'.
'The DR400 pilot, having understood that the A320 was cleared to land while still at threshold 23, reported to the controller who immediately instructed the A320 to abort the approach.'
The controller reportedly looked 'lost' when the Airbus requested guidance.
The aircraft, now at an altitude of 232 feet and 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) above the runway 23 threshold, was flying over the DR400 at an altitude of 178 feet, according to the report.
The DR400 was later cleared for take-off and the A320 made a safe landing on the second attempt 'without any unusual event'.
The report noted that the crew flying the Airbus were both “experienced in their duties” – one with 9,000 and the other with 2,100 hours of flight time – although one “indicated that he does not understand the French language well” while awaiting permission to to land.
But it was the DR400 pilot's quick thinking that prevented disaster; the pilot, who was flying recreationally, was not qualified for English-language telephony, but understood the controller to clear the Airbus to land while preparing to take off on the same strip.
“The order seemed strange to him,” BEA noted. At the time, he couldn't imagine that the controller had forgotten he was waiting to take off and “believed that situational awareness was being shared.”
But he nevertheless reported that he was still on the runway, giving the team seconds to avoid disaster.
The F-GTZY DR400 that was on the runway when an airbus passed over last December
The incident took place in “good weather, with little wind,” the report said.
MailOnline could not reach easyJet for comment.