Feds Talk to Air Canada Pilot in Close Call at SFO Taxiway

NTSB investigators confirm Airbus jet was lined up to land on crowded taxiway

Federal investigators confirmed Monday that an Air Canada jet was descending toward a taxiway holding four other planes rather than the assigned runway and narrowly avoided disaster at San Francisco International Airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it interviewed the captain of the Air Canada plane, will talk to the co-pilot Tuesday and finish talking to air traffic controllers by Wednesday.

The NTSB said the Air Canada Airbus A320 was cleared to land on runway 28R but instead lined up its approach for a parallel taxiway, which four other airliners were using to get in position to take off.

The NTSB said the Air Canada jet descended to less than 100 feet above the ground and flew over another plane before aborting the landing on July 7.

Aviation experts said Monday the close call was more a near miss and could have been disastrous.

"If he had not initiated the go around in the next 5-10 seconds, this would have been a disaster," said Max Trescott, a flight instructor and aviation blogger. "Every one to two years, an aircraft will land on a taxiway by mistake. What's odd about this is that the go-around happened so late in the game and was so close."

Air Canada declined to comment, citing the investigation.

The Air Canada jet, with 140 people on board, was arriving from Toronto. The NTSB statement adds details to the first official description of the close call, a summary released last week by Canadian safety authorities.

Also Monday, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who was a passenger aboard the flight, released a letter to Air Canada in which he requested that the airline keep passengers informed of the results of any investigation. He said passengers were not told what was happening, and instead, the pilot "made a nonchalant announcement that he had to go around due to traffic at the airport."

Canada's Transportation Safety Board has given the flight data recorder, one of the so-called black boxes from the Air Canada plane, to the NTSB, which is leading the investigation.

The NTSB said it has security-camera video of the late-night incident and will release it in the coming months.

NBC Bay Area's Mark Matthews and Ian Cull contributed to this report.

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