Planes almost hit at SFO

November 14, 2008 6:56:27 PM PST
Passengers aboard a Virgin America flight got a big scare just before landing Thursday night at San Francisco International Airport. The flight coming in from Los Angeles was forced to abort its landing in order to avoid hitting a United plane that was taking off on the same runway.

"At that point I was not scared for my life," said Melissa Melcombe, a passenger.

However, Melcombe was alarmed just before her flight from Los Angeles to SFO touched down Thursday night at about 8.

"All of a sudden out of nowhere we did basically a takeoff, as if we had been on the runway," said Melcombe.

The plane Melissa was on had to quickly increase speed and climb instead of land. The FAA says that the aircraft was given a go around order.

"It happens from time to time. Go arounds occur for a number of reasons. It could be an aircraft is coming in too high or too fast," said Ian Gregor, a FAA spokesperson.

That night's go around was due to a United flight which was taking off from the same runway on which the Virgin flight intended to land. What happened is what ABC7 aviation consultant Ron Wilson calls a runway incursion. Wilson says they usually only occur only 4 or 5 times a year at SFO.

"In the past 12 months they have had a spike which is very unusual. I believe that this is number 12 or 13 and that is quite unusual," said Wilson.

Wilson says SFO's closest call came last year when two aircraft were within 50 of each other when controllers averted disaster. Thursday night's event wasn't nearly as critical.

The FAA downplayed the incident on Friday. They say that the air traffic controllers and the pilot had plenty of time to make decisions that would insure the passengers' safety.

"This was a very minor event. The controller instructed the arriving aircraft to execute a missed approach because somebody had not cleared the runway," said Gregor.

The FAA says no report will be needed since the planes weren't that close which is one of the reasons incidents like this happen many more times than passengers realize.


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