NATIONAL NEWS

Investigators detail how an American Airlines jet crossed a runway in front of a Delta plane at JFK

Jan 29, 2024, 3:55 PM

The pilots of an American Airlines plane taxied across the wrong runway last year in New York — into the path of another jetliner that was taking off — after the captain became distracted and confused about takeoff instructions and the co-pilot lost track of their plane’s location, according to documents released Monday.

Disaster was averted because an air traffic controller — using an expletive — shouted at pilots of the other plane, a Delta Air Lines flight, to abort their takeoff.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday released documents related to its investigation of the Jan. 13, 2023, incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The investigation is continuing, and the board said it has not yet determined a probable cause for the close call.

The nighttime incident was among several close calls at U.S. airports that alarmed the public and lawmakers and led the Federal Aviation Administration to hold a “safety summit” last year.

The pilots of the London-bound American Airlines Boeing 777 took a wrong turn on a taxiway alongside two perpendicular runways. The crew had first planned for a takeoff from runway 31L. However, they later got instructions from a controller and a message on their cockpit computer telling them to taxi across 31L and take off from runway 4L.

In later interviews, “all three pilots (on the American Airlines plane) said they understood at that time that (the flight) would be departing runway 4L,” according to the NTSB.

Instead, they crossed 4L just as a Delta Boeing 737 began its takeoff roll down the same runway.

The captain, Michael Graber, said that as the plane crossed the middle of runway 4L, he saw red runway lights turn on — the lights warn pilots when it’s not safe to be on the runway.

“All of a sudden I saw that red glow and I just — right away I said something — that ain’t right,” he told investigators. “I didn’t know what was happening, but I was thinking something’s wrong.”

The captain added power to speed across.

Graber told investigators that he heard and understood the directions from the controller but got distracted by a heavy workload and, in his mind, might have gone back to thinking they were taking off from the other runway.

The co-pilot, Traci Gonzalez, said she knew the entire time that they were supposed to cross runway 31L, “but she was unaware of the airplane’s position when the captain taxied onto runway 4L,” investigators wrote. “She knew they were approaching a runway, but she did not realize they were approaching runway 4L.”

The co-pilot also blamed distractions, including an unusually high number of weather alerts.

The third person in the cockpit, Jeffrey Wagner, a relief pilot for the long international flight, said he was “heads down” and didn’t know where the plane was as it taxied on to the runway. He said that when they crossed the wrong runway and he saw a plane to his right, he initially thought it might be taxiing behind them.

The Delta pilots, warned by the air traffic controller, were able to brake to a stop. The planes were never closer than about 1,000 feet (300 meters) apart — not a comforting margin in aviation-safety terms.

A controller warned the American crew about a “possible pilot deviation,” and gave them a phone number to call, which the captain did. After a delay, they took off for London — this time on runway 31L. The crew did not report the incident to American Airlines before taking off.

The cockpit voice recording from inside the American plane was taped over during the six-hour flight to London and lost forever.

Investigators said they tried several times to interview the American pilots, but the pilots refused on advice of their union, which objected to the NTSB recording the interviews. The NTSB then took the highly unusual step of issuing a subpoena to compel the crew members to sit for recorded interviews.

The pilots’ union, the Allied Pilots Association, had no immediate comment Monday on the NTSB documents.

The report renewed recommendations that the Federal Aviation Administration require better preservation of cockpit voice recordings. They run on loops that typically tape over old sounds after two hours. The FAA finally bowed to NTSB pressure late last year, announcing that it would propose that recordings not be overwritten for 25 hours — but only on new planes.

National News

President Joe Biden raises the hand of Vice President Kamala Harris after viewing the Independence ...

Associated Press

Kamala Harris is now in a bright spotlight as she fights to secure the Democratic presidential nod

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is being thrust into the most scrutinizing of spotlights, suddenly the leading candidate to succeed party’s main hope of defeating Republican Donald Trump. She spoke multiple times with Biden on Sunday, according to people familiar with the conversations – a day after Biden huddled with his closest aides […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Biden’s decision to drop out leaves Democrats across the country relieved and looking toward future

HARPER WOODS, Mich. (AP) — After weeks of uncertainty about who would be at the top of the Democratic Party’s ticket in November, many voters expressed relief over the news that President Joe Biden would drop his reelection bid and began to think about who might replace him in a dramatically altered election landscape. Jerod […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, ...

Associated Press

Trump’s campaign quickly pivots to Harris after Biden announces decision to leave the race

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign has spent the last year-and-a-half viciously attacking Joe Biden, ridiculing his policies, mocking his fumbles and relishing a rematch they felt they were winning. But they have also spent weeks preparing for the possibility that Biden might exit the race, readying a bevy of attacks against Vice President […]

2 hours ago

FILE - President Joe Biden listens as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the Rose Garden of the...

Associated Press

Democrats promise ‘orderly process’ to replace Biden, where Harris is favored but questions remain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after President Joe Biden announced Sunday that he would drop his reelection campaign, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison had a message: There would be no automatic coronation for his replacement. “In the coming days, the party will undertake a transparent and orderly process to move forward,” Harrison said in a […]

2 hours ago

First lady Jill Biden, left, and second gentleman Douglass Emhoff, right, watch as President Joe Bi...

Associated Press

Biden’s decision to drop out crystalized Sunday. His staff knew one minute before the public did

WASHINGTON (AP) — At 1:45 p.m. Sunday, President Joe Biden’s senior staff was notified that he was stepping away from the 2024 race. At 1:46 p.m., that message was made public. It was never Biden’s intention to leave the race: Up until he decided to step aside Sunday, he was all in. His campaign was […]

3 hours ago

A sign is placed in front of the U.S. Naval Observatory, where Vice President Kamala Harris lives, ...

Associated Press

Democrats are rallying around Harris as she vows to ‘earn and win’ party nomination for president

Democrats quickly rallied around Vice President Kamala Harris as their likely presidential nominee Sunday after President Joe Biden ‘s ground-shaking decision to bow out of the 2024 race. But the fast-moving political situation remained volatile just months before the November election. Shortly after Biden stepped aside he firmly endorsed Harris, who would make history as […]

4 hours ago

Investigators detail how an American Airlines jet crossed a runway in front of a Delta plane at JFK