Controllers Break Risky Chain of Events in Miami
Thursday, January 29, 2015

(Story first published by FAA Communications)

Quick communication between two controllers at Miami Tower (MIA) last fall kept two pilots of commercial jets from continuing on a potential collision course.

Controller Luke Garner, working the ground control north position on Oct. 22, 2014, told the pilot of Boliviana 752 (BOL752), a heavy DC-10 cargo carrier, to stop after former MIA controller and support specialist Ernie Young canceled the takeoff of an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 (AAL1604). The two planes ended up being about 1,200 feet apart.?

“An outstanding job was done by two of MIA's finest,” said MIA FacRep Bill Kisseadoo. “Scanning, good judgment and quick action led to the saving of hundreds of lives on that October day.”

From left to right: Ernie Young and Luke Garner kept two pilots of commercial jets from continuing on a potential collision course because of their quick communication.

The incident occurred during the early-morning traffic push. Young had just plugged in for a shift on local control north.

Following its landing, Garner instructed BOL752 to turn right on Mike taxiway and hold short of 8R at Mike 11. The pilot read back the clearance correctly and acknowledged the instructions. Young cleared AAL1604 for takeoff on runway 8R while simultaneously scanning the runway. During his scan, Young noticed that BOL752 had an unusual angle and speed of taxi on one of the parallel taxiways to 8R. He relayed that to Garner who, while also scanning, noticed that BOL752 was about to enter 8R and immediately transmitted, “BOL752 HOLD YOUR POSITION, STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP.”

BOL752 stopped but not before penetrating the 8R hold short bars at taxiway Mike 5. Young immediately cancelled the takeoff clearance for AAL1604, which then successfully aborted its takeoff roll after accelerating to approximately 100 knots and within 1,200 feet of BOL752.

When Mr. Garner and Mr. Young first noticed the ‘odd’ angle of taxi, BOL752 had not yet infringed on runway 8R. However, based on experience and training, both controllers decided to take quick preemptive action.

“I saw the DC-10 taxiing,” Young said. “I thought he was going to the north side of the airport, which is where one of our maintenance facilities is.” But then Young noticed the DC-10 angling toward the runway at one of the airport’s five hotspots, where traffic conflicts are more likely to occur. It also was traveling at an unusual speed.

Young made a comment to that effect, and Garner reacted to it. “I recognized that was not the place where he was supposed to cross the runway,” Garner said of the cargo jet. He told the pilot to stop and turn right.

Young also canceled the American plane’s takeoff even though it had begun to roll. The airport surface detection equipment in the tower sounded as he canceled the takeoff, a technological confirmation that they had made the right call to stop the planes.

“We were able to correct the situation before the electronic safety systems activated,” Garner noted. “There’s really no substitute for training air traffic controllers to look out the window and recognize an unsafe situation.”

Garner’s quick response to Young’s comment about the DC-10 demonstrated the importance of communication in the operating quarters, Young added. “If it were not for me hearing him stop the DC-10,” he said, “I would not have known that anything was wrong until the DC-10 penetrated the runway surface and the ASDE-X alerted. Those precious seconds were the difference in this story.”

The passenger jet was traveling about 115 miles per hour when Young intervened. “The flight crew did a great job,” Garner said. “[The pilot] obviously applied the brakes, and there was a lot of smoke. They had to let the brakes cool, and then they went back to the gate.”

American Airlines sent a note to the tower to “express its gratitude for the quick actions taken by one of your ground controllers recently. It is good to know that your team is keeping a sharp eye out for all of our safety.”

The DC-10 penetrated the hold-short bars to the runway during the incident. “This is probably the most potential for a negative outcome that I’ve seen,” Garner said.

Both controllers remained calm while responding to the situation, but Garner said “in the minute or two immediately following, it certainly gets the adrenaline pumping.”

“I’ve seen some close calls, but that’s probably the closest,” added Young, who wasn’t sure whether the American pilot was going to continue the departure. “Another five seconds or so and he would have been committed to depart.”

Added Kisseadoo: “We know it's all a part of the job, but their positive impact to safety on that day cannot be understated! We are proud of their professionalism and attention to detail. Congratulations for a job well done Luke Garner and Ernie Young!”

Miami Tower incorporated Garner and Young’s practices into facility training briefings for the benefit of other controllers.

“Their situational awareness and immediate intervention to break the chain of events prevented what in all likelihood would have resulted in a very high-risk runway incursion at best or a potential accident,” Air Traffic Manager Juan Fuentes said, adding that Garner and Young did their jobs “exceedingly well” that day.