Aug. 3 (UPI) -- A commercial airliner attempting to land on the wrong runway in San Francisco last month came within 59 feet of the ground -- and barely missed hitting other taxiing aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an investigation.
The agency said the Airbus A320 was preparing to land on a taxiway instead of its designated runway. After it flew about 85 feet over a United Airlines Boeing 787, the Air Canada crew aborted the landing because "something did not look right to them," the NTSB said.
The height of a 787's tail is 56 feet, and three other planes were waiting on the taxiway to take off.
Air safety experts said if the Air Canada plane had actually landed on the taxiway, it potentially could have resulted in one of aviation's worst disasters. The highest death toll from any plane crash worldwide is 583 people -- killed in 1977 when a Pan Am 747 was struck by a KLM jumbojet on a runway at Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife, Canary Islands. In that event, the KLM 747 wrongly attempted to take off in heavy fog while the Pan Am jet was taxiing on the runway.
The captain flying the Air Canada jet has more than 20,000 flight hours, including 4,800 as a captain. The cockpit voice recorder in the A320 -- one of the most critical pieces of evidence in air investigations -- was overwritten and unavailable to research, the NTSB said.
No conclusions have yet been determined in the investigation, which is continuing.