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Near Miss in Las Vegas
July 30, 2007 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Pilot tells of hairy near miss at Las Vegas airport A post on Airliners.net telling, in some detail, of a near miss between an America West Airbus A320 (piloted by the author) and an Air Canada plane at Las Vegas airport. And if that puts you off flying, to calm down, another pilot's account, of a less hair-raising flight.
posted by jontyjago (55 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
That sounds more like a near-hit than a near miss. Or more appropriately, a near- HOLY FUCKING SHIT WE'RE DEAD!
posted by psmealey at 12:05 PM on July 30, 2007


I wonder if it would have helped to turn the bleeds off in those crucial seconds.
posted by exogenous at 12:12 PM on July 30, 2007


Airliners.net is generally a good justification for the existence of the interwebs.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:20 PM on July 30, 2007


That was an interesting story.

Is it just me, though, or are pilots the most verbose storytellers on the web? I've read several accounts of interesting events by pilots on pilot blogs, and they tend to be like that -- dozens and dozens of tiny details.
posted by gurple at 12:23 PM on July 30, 2007


Ask The Pilot in Salon talks about the recent accident in Brazil. This column is a great source of stories to scare you off of commercial air flights.
posted by SteveInMaine at 12:24 PM on July 30, 2007


That's called a 'runway incursion', scary stuff. Both unsafe design and communication slips contribute to these kinds of errors.
posted by anthill at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2007


gurple: probably a bi-product of all that training.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2007


"Is it just me, though, or are pilots the most verbose storytellers on the web?"

They are verbose. it's part of the training to be detail oriented.
posted by Mcable at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2007


They are verbose. it's part of the training to be detail oriented.

Yes, well this guy appears to be a little more self-involved than the usual detail-oriented, I'm a captain and thus I wear a uniform type of guy.

One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:33 PM on July 30, 2007


That sounds more like a near-hit than a near miss.

That's what "near miss" means. It was a miss, and the things that missed were near. Not a distant miss, but a near miss. And definitely not a near-miss.
posted by mendel at 12:33 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


psmealey: "That sounds more like a near-hit than a near miss."

This too-pedantic point always ruffles my feathers. The phrase "near miss" makes perfect sense. It doesn't mean "nearly a miss", it means "a miss that was close". The same way that your neighbor's home is a near house.
posted by Plutor at 12:35 PM on July 30, 2007


Damnit, mendel.
posted by Plutor at 12:37 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers.

Why are you hating on pilots? By the time a jumbojet has enough automation to be as easy to manage as a bus, we won't need either pilots or drivers except those who sit in remote terminals for emergency monitoring. A bus, even a big one, is not much more difficult to drive than a large car. An airliner is many degrees more complex just in mechanical aspects alone. Then you have the whole operating in three dimensions versus two that compounds the complexity further. Let the pilots be verbose, and enjoy the perspective from looking at everything like an exploded diagram.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:40 PM on July 30, 2007


One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers.

As a resident of the District of Columbia, I have never heard anything so frightening!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:50 PM on July 30, 2007


This too-pedantic point always ruffles my feathers.

Wasn't intended to be pedantic. It was an homage to George Carlin.
posted by psmealey at 12:50 PM on July 30, 2007


Oh goody. I'm flying to Vegas on Thursday morning.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:54 PM on July 30, 2007


psmealey: "That sounds more like a near-hit than a near miss."

This too-pedantic point always ruffles my feathers. The phrase "near miss" makes perfect sense. It doesn't mean "nearly a miss", it means "a miss that was close". The same way that your neighbor's home is a near house.
posted by Plutor at 3:35 PM on July 30 [+] [!]



Oh yeah???!! Well why do people say they get ON a plane... You don't get ON the plane you get IN it.... If you got ON it you'd die! Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh

/Carlin

seriously though, when regarding "mass" transit (i.e. buses, trains, planes, etc., people say "get on" but when referring to personal (cars, vans, etc. (though obviously not bikes, because you do actually get on them) trans, people say "get in" Why? WHY?!?!!?

/derail

cool story though, I'd like to hear from the crew and passengers of the Air Canada plane too.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:54 PM on July 30, 2007


One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers travelling through the air at 500+mph in a very fragile vehicle

Fixed that for you.
posted by davejay at 12:57 PM on July 30, 2007


One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers.

Until they can pull the plane over to announce, "I'm takin' mah bra off!", yank a passenger out of the back seat and threaten to make them walk to their destination, and lead the entire flight in a chorus of, "The landing gear on the plane goes up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down..." no pilot will ever be like any bus driver I've ever had.
posted by katillathehun at 12:59 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers.

A bus driver who must be able to drive his bus even when the windshield is fogged up, must be able to guide his bus to the parking lot even on days when he can’t see the parking space until he’s within 200 feet of it, and must know every detail of every system on his bus so that, in the rare event something goes wrong with the bus, he can correct or work around the problem while the bus is still moving 500 MPH at 30,000 feet or everyone on the bus will die.
posted by bondcliff at 1:17 PM on July 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


You do not get in a plane, you board it. As in boarding a ship. Or any sort of commercial passenger-hauling vehicle. That's why they give you a boarding pas versus a getting-in pass.

Thus you get on board.

It all harks back to the whole "let's convince them that they are more than just bus drivers" by using verbose language to describe the simplicity of aviation. And I'm not hating on airline pilots, I'm just pointing out that they're a little too self-involved for what they do.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:18 PM on July 30, 2007


Until they can pull the plane over to announce, "I'm takin' mah bra off!", yank a passenger out of the back seat and threaten to make them walk to their destination, and lead the entire flight in a chorus of, "The landing gear on the plane goes up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down..." no pilot will ever be like any bus driver I've ever had.

Not to mention "Motherfucker I don't care if you are cracked up and covered in grape jelly, I will crash this fucking bus and kill us all before I listen to your whiny ass for another minute and there ain't a soul on this bus gonna disagree with me."

God I hate the bus. Loved that particular bus driver though.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:32 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


"[get rid of all pilots] except those who sit in remote terminals for emergency monitoring."
Aye, there's the rub... Automation is only as good as the engineers who designed it, and only as good as the sensors that made it through cost review. While people may make mistakes, they also are the only control system that can deal with the unanticipated, which in a system like air traffic control, happens a lot.

Interestingly, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have been in service for a decade in the military have very high crash rates, much higher than manned vehicles. One of the contributions to this problem is that when something breaks on the aircraft, the operator on the ground has a hard time figuring out what went wrong, since they're totally dependent on the sensors that the engineers decided to include in the UAV. If it ain't measured, then there's no way to figure out what the problem is.

When humans are involved, sometimes they can invent a solution on the spot and save the day.

Even as a mechanical / industrial engineer, I'm stunned at the enthusiasm that techies show for automating things. Give me a well-educated human with a well-designed computerized work support system anyday.
posted by anthill at 1:32 PM on July 30, 2007


Because no airplane-near-disaster story is complete without it: The Gimli Glider 1, and 2.
posted by Skorgu at 1:34 PM on July 30, 2007


Holy crap. Had I been a passenger on that Air Canada flight I believe I would have had to change my pants once I arrived in the terminal. And everyone else on the flight would have been wondering why the guy in the window seat had been screaming "OHMYGODWEREGONNAFUKKINDIE!"
posted by smoothvirus at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2007


HAL (the pilot) is verbose yes, but he also is writing (or has written by now) a book. I've read his pilot trip reports for a long time on Airliners.net, and they are always a time-consuming but very interesting read.

"The landing gear on the plane goes up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down..." no pilot will ever be like any bus driver I've ever had.

I was on a southwest flight last week where the F/A's sang a version of "take me out to the ball game" but along the lines of "Take me up in the airplane, take me up in the clouds..." If you fly southwest you'll run into these fun crews that love doing what they do. Its why I like flying southwest.
posted by SirOmega at 1:49 PM on July 30, 2007


I know there's been a really gripping metafilter post in the last year or so having to do with the Archie League medal, but I can't find it. Anyway, here's some amazing audio of close calls that an air traffic controller was able to handle; these guys won the NATCA Archie League Medal for Safety with their professionalism.
posted by felix at 1:56 PM on July 30, 2007


My brother in-law flies Airbuses for Air Canada, mostly on domestic routes. He has put in thousands of hours of training and study. It's fascinating to listen to him talk about his job. Saying airline pilots are like bus drivers just shows ignorance. It's like saying F1 drivers are just guys who like to go fast.
posted by autodidact at 2:10 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Here's the part I don't get; "In our case, we were just a couple hundred pounds under that limit, so officially we could do a normal 'bleeds-on' takeoff."

A couple hundred pounds? And this is known how? I'm uncomfortable with an estimate that is within fractions of a percentage of the thing turning into Nancy Grace's latest talking point. It's odd, cutting the margins that close on something that you only eyeball.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:19 PM on July 30, 2007


One day in the future people will come to regard airline pilots for what they are: bus drivers.

From reading Ask the Pilot at Salon, that day is today. I was shocked/dismayed/horrified to discover just how little pilots are paid. And they have a union? WTF?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:22 PM on July 30, 2007


I was shocked/dismayed/horrified to discover just how little pilots are paid.

Well, they do get to fly free anywhere their carrier goes when they're off duty. As does their family. They usually fly stand-by, of course, but if you know someone who works for an airline, you probably notice that they fly all over alot. It's a different kind of lifestyle to be able to fly for free whenever you want versus having to plan on paying $300+ for your tickets.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:26 PM on July 30, 2007


Wow, such a close call. To make matters worse, the Vegas airport is very much right in the middle of town, with large residential areas on three sides and UNLV & a busy business district on the other. I shudder to think what might have happened had the planes collided with one in mid-air.
posted by vorfeed at 2:39 PM on July 30, 2007


Interestingly, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have been in service for a decade in the military have very high crash rates, much higher than manned vehicles.

I'm not surprised. Even given the advances of the past 50 years, I would think the processing power and level of software architecture necessary to compete with how quickly the human brain can interpret and react (and intuit) to rapidly changing situations is still many years away.
posted by psmealey at 2:44 PM on July 30, 2007


They are verbose. it's part of the training to be detail oriented.

Yes, well this guy appears to be a little more self-involved than the usual detail-oriented, I'm a captain and thus I wear a uniform type of guy.


They are verbose to us, but since it was posted on airliners.net, I'm sure his audience actually is interested in knowing that his airbus has the less powewrful F1 engines (or whatever) rather than the more powerful ones.

All depends on your audience I suppose.
posted by xetere at 2:44 PM on July 30, 2007


A couple hundred pounds? And this is known how?

Some kind of aircraft weight sensor, maybe? Just a guess. I don't pilot the things. I just gripe about the carry-on policies.
posted by katillathehun at 2:48 PM on July 30, 2007


A couple hundred pounds? And this is known how?
There's a person called the dispatcher whose job it is to make these calculations. Of course the weight of the passengers needs to be estimated, but they do a very impressive job of it. (The estimate varies by season etc. because when it's cold people wear more clothes.)

An FAA certificate (aka license) is required to be a dispatcher.
posted by phliar at 2:51 PM on July 30, 2007


You do not get in a plane, you board it. As in boarding a ship. Or any sort of commercial passenger-hauling vehicle. That's why they give you a boarding pas versus a getting-in pass.

Thus you get on board.


It all becomes clear. Thanks!
posted by Debaser626 at 2:54 PM on July 30, 2007


Sorry, can't resist...

That's not the only kind of hairy near-miss in Vegas.
posted by smackfu at 3:01 PM on July 30, 2007


Saying airline pilots are like bus drivers just shows ignorance. It's like saying F1 drivers are just guys who like to go fast.

What? You think bus drivers don't study for their tests? Bus drivers do way more than airline pilots: ticketing agent, information bureau, traffic controller, conflict mediator, baggage handler, handicap assistant and the list goes on. All the while driving a specific route, on time, in traffic. And who is the forst person to get bitched at or thrown a punch? The bus driver.

Aside from kicking the tires while chatting with the ground crew, pilots do little else besides fly the plane, which is essentially taking off and landing and playing with the seatbelt lights. Oh, and they also have long-assed verbose reports that need filling out so that the other pilots from other flights will have something piloty to read when they get back from wherever they went.

And yes, race car drivers are guys who like to go fast who at one point in time were live-action marketing reps for company's whose products we can no longer afford.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:01 PM on July 30, 2007


Smells like troll pee here.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:03 PM on July 30, 2007


Pilots are only human, which is scary to think about when you're 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. They get sleepy, head-achey, cranky, etc, just like the rest of us. I have the utmost respect for most of the folks who safely get us passengers from place to place, but there are a few with a "better than the rest of you mortals" who tarnish their reputationl. Case in point...the cockpit crew aboard Northwest Flight 255 who didn't observe the sterile cockpit rule and were kibbutzing with the flight attendants during their pre-takeoff checklist. And the pilot who literally almost knocked me over at the Toronto airport when he was walking backward talking to a co-worker and I was standing in line at a concession stand. As I stumbled and fell to the ground, he turned around and said, "Miss, please be more careful." "Huh?" was my reply, as I got back up to my feet. "You bumped into me." "I can have you removed from your flight, you know," he warned me.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:05 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


psmealey, I doubt we'll ever see that day where a machine can deal with anywhere close to the range of disturbances and unexpected events that happen in a domain like air traffic control. They've tried before, but it all comes down to interpretation of context, like you said, and the limitations of designers trying to anticipate every possible eventuality. There's always something they'll miss, or not be able to plan for.

Systems like automated subways have it a lot easier: the track is one dimensional, weather doesn't interfere, and things aren't crossing the tracks. But as soon as the environment gets more complicated, bad things can happen to automation.
posted by anthill at 3:07 PM on July 30, 2007


> By the time a jumbojet has enough automation to be as easy to manage as a bus, we won't need
> either pilots or drivers except those who sit in remote terminals for emergency monitoring.

This is totally irrational as regards true relative risk. Nevertheless. I'd love to have a little puddle-jumper that I fly myself, but as for those flying Greyhound things you'll get my avatar up in one of them the day they invent remote-control passengers.
posted by jfuller at 3:15 PM on July 30, 2007


This is totally irrational as regards true relative risk.

What's more irrational is to suppose that most mechanized aspects of our lives won't be automated sooner than we think.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:17 PM on July 30, 2007


Well, they do get to fly free anywhere their carrier goes ...

Sure, it's a nifty perk. But I don't think you're grokking just how little they get paid. Read Ask the Pilot. We're talking about very few pilots cracking the $100K barrier per year.

In other words, that guy flying the 737 shuttle from L.A. to Vegas is pulling down about $40K per year.

/shudder
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:47 PM on July 30, 2007


Best of the web! Love the recap:

How many sets of underwear had to be changed that evening? Who knows? Ours remained unsoiled, but just barely.
posted by brassafrax at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2007


I never believe anything I read on airliners.net, but this incident definitely happened. That doesn't mean that the a.net poster was really the first officer of that plane.
posted by grouse at 4:04 PM on July 30, 2007


All the while driving a specific route, on time, in traffic.

What kind of bus are you riding?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:31 PM on July 30, 2007


vorfeed writes "I shudder to think what might have happened had the planes collided with one in mid-air."

Besides the people directly involved it wouldn't have been too bad in this specific case as one of the planes was on the ground. The surrounding communities would have been safe.
posted by Mitheral at 6:10 PM on July 30, 2007


gurple are pilots the most verbose storytellers on the web?

The ASRS Callback monthly publication of excerpts from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System. Short and sweet stories of screw ups told by the the people who fly and maintain aircraft.
posted by hockeyman at 10:01 PM on July 30, 2007


"It all harks back to the whole "let's convince them that they are more than just bus drivers" by using verbose language to describe the simplicity of aviation."

Great troll. You called yourself out on that one, though. Nobody could be as stupid as you are pretending to be.
posted by Sukiari at 12:26 AM on July 31, 2007


well, my dad's been flying commercial airlines internationally for a few decades now, i get to hear a few of the stories, especially about near misses and how preventable they tend to be, except when they aren't. also gossip about pilots, etc. the same sort of stuff you get on airliners.net sometimes, but regularly on pprune.org and others.

in some ways, it is a very technical bus driver at the helm, with their unions, airline management policies & decisions, etc. a great deal of time is spent on safety, but as my dad says, they really pay pilots to do the tough jobs, land in bad weather, fly long hours with intense responsibility on their shoulders, get there on time and safely every time, etc. the increasing automation of aircraft takes care of the fine details, but there will always need to be a pilot on hand when things don't fit the exceptionally numerous checklists. of course, he uses a few more words to describe this.

he's often got a great story or two on hand as expected. when i asked him last about a near miss, he remembers an opera singer being escorted in first class enroute to the QE2, who was in the jumpseat as they were about to land in singapore. a 737 plane's belly flashed by the windshield flying from above to below at roughly 200m away as they were flying along, about to land. it's a big enough plane that you notice just how large it is at that distance. needless to say, everyone in the cockpit was rattled.

not knowing the details myself, apparently, the other aircraft rolled upside down and across the other aircraft. when i asked how nobody noticed being upside down during this, often times pilots roll the aircraft, as long as you maintain positive cabin gravity, nobody's the wiser.

but that disturbs me more than the near miss, hotdogging commercial pilots explains so much more than "turbulence" ever did.
posted by toliman at 9:54 AM on July 31, 2007


Besides the people directly involved it wouldn't have been too bad in this specific case as one of the planes was on the ground. The surrounding communities would have been safe.

One of the planes was on the ground, but the other was airborne and trying to clear the first plane over the top. If the second plane had not quite made it, what do you think would happen to it? I guess it might not go far if it took a lucky flip or two, but it seems likely to me that it might go on for some distance. In one similar accident, the "over the top" plane ended up so far from the collision site (nearly 500 meters) that rescuers did not initially realize there had been two planes involved.

That said, looking at the Google map and the description of the near miss, it probably happened at this intersection on runway 25R, and it does look like there was plenty of space between there and the end of the runway. At any rate, the continued existence of that golf course on the other side of LV Boulevard certainly speaks to the professionalism of air transit workers...
posted by vorfeed at 1:44 PM on July 31, 2007


If this show ever plays again, I recommend it.

Charlie Victor Romeo (hideous website design warning)

Essentially they re-enact black box transcripts from airplane crashes. No blood or gore. Just vignettes that end with a blackout where the transcript ends.

It was a good show, albeit spooky, and it won't scare you out of flying.
posted by lampshade at 11:30 PM on July 31, 2007


This is exactly why I eat a handful of Xanax before flying anywhere.
posted by drstein at 11:06 AM on August 1, 2007


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