Planes nearly collide at LAX

LOS ANGELES – In yet another dramatic incident at Los Angeles International Airport, two airplanes came so close to colliding on a runway last Saturday that one pilot can be heard hyperventilating on air traffic control tapes.

A SkyWest regional jet taking off for San Antonio had accelerated to 115 miles per hour when a Gulfstream business jet strayed in front, forcing the pilot to slam on his brakes. The SkyWest jet, with about 39 people on board, shuddered to a stop less than 100 feet from the Gulfstream.

After the incident, a shaken tower controller can be heard on the radio apologizing to the SkyWest pilot and asking him to immediately leave the runway to make room for a landing aircraft.

“SkyWest 6430, I apologize, we never talked to the Gulfstream, he crossed without a clearance,” said the controller, who was so traumatized by the near collision that she left her post seconds later. “I apologize. If you could make a right turn, please, and exit the runway.”

The SkyWest pilot comes on to the frequency next.

“Exiting right,” he said, exhaling heavily.

Controllers in the tower at LAX – the world’s fifth-busiest passenger airport – said it was the closest they’ve ever seen two airplanes come to each other at the facility without actually colliding. Aviation officials agreed the incident is likely to be classified as the most serious close call at LAX since 2000. It was the eighth near miss at LAX this year, compared to six in 2005.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said that the SkyWest pilot, the tower controller and the ground radar that audibly alerts controllers to impending collisions, all noticed the Gulfstream crossing the runway at the same time.

“We had three layers of redundancy,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. “This is just a clear and clean pilot mistake.”

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