Aviation-safety officials say a close call last year points out the need for faster reporting of dangerous incidents before evidence is lost.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a final report Thursday on the incident in which an Air Canada jet nearly crashed into planes lined up on the ground at San Francisco International Airport.
The pilots were slow to report the incident to superiors. By the time they did, the plane had made another flight and the cockpit voice recording of the close call was recorded over.
The NTSB says the recording could have helped investigators understand why the Air Canada pilots missed the runway and were about to land on a taxiway where four other planes were idling before they aborted their landing.
The Air Canada jet swooped to just 60 feet above the ground while passing over other planes packed with passengers waiting to take off shortly before midnight on July 7, 2017.
“Only a few feet of separation prevented this from possibly becoming the worst aviation accident in history,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said in a statement accompanying the report.
The Air Canada captain, identified in NTSB documents as Dimitrios Kisses, was supposed to report the incident to the airline as soon as possible but didn’t because he was “very tired” and it was late. He waited until the next day. By that time, the plane was used for another flight, and the audio loop on the cockpit voice recorder was taped over.
The NTSB did not allege that Kisses and co-pilot Matthew Dampier deliberately delayed reporting the incident, but it did say that investigators could have gained a better understanding of what the crew was doing before the close call.
The NTSB is considering recommending that cockpit recorders capture the last 25 hours of flying time, up from the current two hours.
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