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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Near-Miss Accident or Terrorist Incident?

Sometimes, it happens.  A pilot turns onto the wrong runway and tragedy happens.  The New York Post reports this morning that “a Lufthansa jumbo jet speeding toward takeoff was forced to a screeching halt on a Kennedy Airport runway to avoid a catastrophic collision with an EgyptAir plane that made a wrong turn into its path.”

If it had been a simple commuter flight or the airline of any Western nation, you’d just say, “Whew!  That was a close call.”  But when the other airliner involved, the one on the wrong runway, is from the Middle East, we have to put our antennas up and take a closer look at the radar.

The Post report continue:  “Cancel take off! Cancel take off plans!” yelled a frightened air controller who saw that the Munich-bound Lufthansa Airbus A340 was headed toward a collision with an Egypt Air Boeing 777 at around 6:50 p.m. Monday.

"Lufthansa 411 heavy is rejecting takeoff," the pilot radioed back.

The aborted liftoff came as the German airliner was roaring down Runway 22R, where an EgyptAir plane was precariously perched less than a mile away, officials said.

“Those two were coming together," radioed an unidentified pilot who witnessed the near-disaster.
A few minutes later, a pilot aboard a Virgin America flight arriving from Los Angeles piped in: "That was quite a show."   The Lufthansa plane was cleared for takeoff seconds before the incident.  Its pilots had to slam the brakes so hard, they worried they might be overheated.

“It was close," said an air-control source who believes the EgyptAir flight ended up in the path of the Lufthansa jet after its crew took a wrong turn.  Officials could not say how close the two planes came to colliding. FAA spokeswoman Holly Baker said it might take few days for investigators to sort out some of the basic details of the incident.

A collision would have been an epic tragedy. The Lufthansa jet had 286 passengers, plus crew, the airline said. EgyptAir declined comment, but its Boeing 777s can carry up to 346 passenger, plus crew.  An Airbus A340 has a normal takeoff speed of 180 mph -- meaning that if they'd reached full-speed a half-mile from the Egypt Air plane, the Lufthansa pilots had at best 10 seconds to safely stop their jet.

After the Lufthansa plane pulled off the runway, controllers sent a Port Authority crew to help check its brakes. After a stop at the airport terminal, it headed back to the runway, and finally departed about an hour and 40 minutes after the incident.   It arrived safely in Munich.  The EgyptAir jet took off for Cairo about 90 minutes after the incident.

Investigators spent an hour and a half with the Egyptian plane but eventually allowed it to take off.  When the report is released, we’ll learn whether the plane’s pilots pleaded innocent and how much of their story the investigators believed.  We’ll find out whether investigators checked their backgrounds, or whether political correctness has banned such research.  It would be interesting, too, to see the plane’s manifest, to learn if anyone important was on board the plane that terrorists would be interested in targeting.

There are no simple mistakes or misunderstandings when it comes to radical Islamists and airliners.

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