The Southwest Airlines and FedEx jets involved in Saturday’s near miss in Austin came within 100 feet of one another, the National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman said Monday.
The NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the runway incursion that occurred at 6:40 a.m. Saturday at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport when dense fog required pilots to do an instruments-only land.
NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy made the comments about the close proximity of the two planes Monday to reporters in Washington, D.C., and a spokesman for the safety investigation agency confirmed the comments to The Dallas Morning News.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday that an air traffic controller had cleared the incoming FedEx plane to land on the runway and then shortly after gave the Southwest Airlines 737-700 permission to take off from the same runway.
The FedEx Boeing 767 jet aborted the landing and avoided Southwest Airlines flight 708, the FAA said. It circled and landed safely shortly after while the Southwest flight continued on to Cancun and arrived safely as well.
Initial data from aircraft tracking service FlightRadar24 said that the planes came within 1,000 feet, an uncomfortably close distance for large jets at a commercial airport. It also said fog reduced visibility to less than a quarter mile.
The FedEx jet was about two-thirds of a mile from the airport when the air traffic controller gave the go-ahead for the Southwest plane to use the runway, FlightRadar24 said.
The 100-foot distance indicated by the preliminary NTSB investigation is less than the 117-foot wingspan of the Boeing 737-700.
The NTSB is expecting to release a preliminary report of the accident within 15 days, but Homendy spoke with the press Monday ahead of a House Aviation subcommittee hearing Tuesday on FAA reauthorization.
The NTSB was unable to retrieve cockpit voice recorders from either aircraft as both had been recorded over by the time the agency requested them, the NTSB spokesman said.
The FAA declined to give the status of the air traffic controller who okayed both aircraft to use the runway.
Dallas-based Southwest and Memphis-based FedEx deferred questions to the FAA, which has not given any more information since Sunday.
The near miss Saturday at Austin-Bergstrom was the second incident in a month involving passenger jets at major commercial airports, following a Jan. 15 incident where an American Airlines 777 crossed the runway in front of a Delta Air Lines 737 taking off. The NTSB is also investigating that incident.