Two airplanes came perilously close to colliding at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last week, sparking an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and raising questions about the safety of the runways and how incidents are reported.
At 6:42 p.m. Nov. 9, Broward air traffic controllers cleared for landing US Airways Flight 1251, a Boeing 737.
On the runway, directly in US Airways' path, sat Comair Flight 5026, a CRJ-200 regional aircraft heading for Tallahassee.
As the US Airways flight from Pittsburgh descended, its crew members became alarmed when they noticed Comair.
The US Airways crew immediately communicated with the control tower, but got a second clearance to land, a safety official said.
Seconds later, traffic controllers realized a disaster was about to happen. The two planes were as close as 100 feet.
Traffic control alerted US Airways to ``go around.''
' `Go around' means to back up, climb [back into the air], do not land,'' said Lauren Peduzzi, spokeswoman for the safety board. ``You're talking four or five seconds at 100 feet difference. That's pretty low.''
No one was injured in the incident, Peduzzi said, and it's unclear whether passengers on either flight were aware of what happened.
It's also unclear who reported the incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has control over operation of airports, said Wednesday it's investigating the near collision, but spokesman Paul Turk said he wasn't certain whether the tower reported the mistake.
The Comair crew notified the NTSB on Nov. 10.
''From our viewpoint, this is an incident, this is a serious incident,'' Peduzzi said. ``Incidents like this give us concern that perhaps there were more incidents like this that we weren't aware of.''
COUNTY WAS UNAWARE
Broward County, which operates the airport, was unaware of the Nov. 9 incident until it appeared in news reports, said airport spokesman Jim Reynolds.
''We're receptive to any ideas that FAA has to improve the safety of the airport,'' he said.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association disputed the NTSB's version of the story, and said the Broward controller acted in time to order the go-around.
Local controllers are studying tapes to reconstruct what happened, said Doug Church, association spokesman. But Church said he doesn't believe the planes came that close to crashing.
''We don't want to minimize this,'' Church said. ``But go-arounds like this are fairly routine.''
''Runway incursions'' -- near misses -- happen with some frequency. Between Oct. 1, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2005, there were 29 ''serious'' runway incursions at airports across the nation, Turk said.
''Serious means that there was a real chance that the planes could have collided and one of the planes had to make an avoidance maneuver,'' he said.
Citing a recent incident at Boston's Logan International Airport, NTSB this week said it is unacceptable that it takes air traffic control so much time to notify pilots of an impending runway crash.
NTSB is urging the FAA to install technology that would detect planes about to crash. The FAA has begun that project, but is only outfitting the nation's largest airports. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood is not included, Turk said.
Currently, the Broward airport has no advanced software to avoid collisions, but does have a short-range radar system. Controllers also watch flights from the control tower, Turk said.
Runway safety software can cost millions, and would have to be paid for with state and federal grants and local dollars, Reynolds said.