Near Miss at SFO

This is the kind of story you don't want to read the week you have travel plans. 

The National Transportation Safety Bureau launched an official investigation Tuesday after a near miss at San Francisco International airport over the weekend.

The "near" measurement of the "miss" is somewhere between 200 to 300 feet, which is basically the length of a football field.

That's the blink of an eye in flight speed.

Here's how it went down according to the NTSB:  United Flight 889 was taking off on Saturday at 11 a.m. with 251 passengers and 17 crew members when it came within a few hundred feet of another much smaller airplane.

Of course neither plane would win this scary game of mid-air chicken.

Thanks to the air traffic controller, a working collision avoidance system and a fast thinking pilot, this story is only a story and not a disaster.

According to the NTSB, the tower controller told the pilot about oncoming traffic when the plane was at about 1,100 feet.

He said to look at the one o'clock position.  Seconds later the plane's alert system issued the audible warning, "traffic traffic." 

The two pilots said they saw a light wing airplane taking a hard left turn.   Specifically they reported, "seeing only the underside of the Aeronca as it passed to within an estimated 200-300 feet of the 777."

The first officer, who was controlling the plane, pushed the control column forward to level the airplane.  He continued to follow additional commands from the alert system to "adjust vertical speed" and "descend, descend."

That did the trick to avoid a collision.

The flight continued to Beijing without further incident.  

We don't know where the smaller plane was headed.

It wasn't clear if the passengers were even aware there was a potential issue.

We will know more when the NTSB investigator arrives and files his official report.

  The FAA usually keeps planes separated by at least 500 feet  vertically or 1.5 miles horizontally when air traffic is busy, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

The FAA is investigating the incident and looking into why the air traffic controller didn't notice the  proximity of the planes sooner, Gregor said.

Lori Preuitt thinks it is good to know that there are more Sully's flying the friendly skies these days.

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