WESTERN PACIFIC REGION
Los Angeles International Airport ATCT
It was, as the Los Angeles Times reported LAX Tower controllers’ descriptions, “the closest call they have seen at LAX in seven years.”
But standing between the episode of pilot deviation and the impending, unspeakable disaster near the end of Runway 25 Right (25R) on the afternoon of July 26, 2006 was quick-thinking Michael Darling, a veteran controller at LAX Tower for over 20 years.
The incident began when America West Flight 6008 (ASH6008), a regional jet, landed from Phoenix on Runway 25 Left, the airport’s southernmost runway.
Darling, working the local control position in the tower, instructed the aircraft to depart the runway on Taxiway Mike and hold short of 25R. The pilot read back the hold short instruction.
Meanwhile, just prior to this movement, a departing United Express turboprop (flight SKW6037, to Monterey, Calif.) had been cleared for takeoff on 25R at Taxiway Golf on what is known as an “intersection departure;” taking off less than halfway down the runway.
With the United Express aircraft on its takeoff roll and going beyond the point at which it could have stopped, the LAX local control team watched as the America West aircraft, moving too fast to possibly stop at the hold short line, crossed the runway edge line of 25R. Darling quickly went into action, reacting to the situation and keying his microphone to alert the United Express pilot in a clear, authoritative voice.
“Traffic unauthorized crossing downfield!”
With that warning, the pilot was able to pull the aircraft up early – albeit at a slower speed than normal – and flew over the America West jet by less than 50 feet.
“I believe Mike Darling should be recognized for his quick thinking, as many people would have first tried to talk to the jet crossing the hold lines,” former LAX facility representative Diane Aceves said. “In choosing to speak to the departing United Express pilot, Mike enabled him to avoid a collision.”
In a post-incident report compiled by the FAA, the pilot of ASH6008, in admitting responsibility for the pilot deviation, stated that one of his reverse thrusters wasn’t operating properly but that it was his full intention to hold short as instructed. The pilot said he got confused when he reached the hold line and continued forward onto 25R, then stopped.
An FAA supervisor at LAX said in the report that, “had that been a larger aircraft departing, it would have been far worse,” of an outcome.
LAX controllers told the Los Angeles Times that the incident was the most serious near-collision at the airport since November 1999, when an MD-80 that had just landed mistakenly crossed in front of a departing Boeing 757. The United pilot saw the MD-80 and quickly got airborne, clearing it by 100 feet.
Thanks to Darling’s actions, the event had a safe outcome. Unfortunately, LAX Tower will soon lose Darling’s skills, determination and experience. He plans on retiring this spring.
“This award is a wonderful retirement gift to a longtime NATCA member,” Aceves said.
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