Southwest to help investigate runway close call

AP

DALLAS - Southwest Airlines says it's cooperating with federal officials investigating a close call on a runway in Chicago last month.

A Southwest plane that had just landed at Midway Airport was preparing to cross a runway when the co-pilot yelled at the pilot to stop to avoid a smaller jet that was taking off.

Federal officials say air traffic controllers didn't cancel the smaller jet's takeoff clearance or tell the Southwest plane to stop.

The planes came within less than 300 feet of each other during the Dec. 1 incident.

Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said Wednesday that the airline was cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

The NTSB said in a preliminary report that air traffic controllers cleared a Learjet for takeoff on Midway's runway 31R and told the Southwest pilot to cross the same runway before contacting ground control.

The Southwest co-pilot saw the Learjet taking off and yelled to the captain to stop, according to the NTSB. The pilot stopped the plane before it reached the runway's edge.

"Air traffic control did not cancel the takeoff clearance of the (Learjet) nor direct the (Southwest plane) to hold short of runway 31R," the safety board said.

The NTSB said that the Southwest pilot claimed that the Learjet flew over his plane, but the board said the planes were 287 feet apart as the Learjet passed 62 feet overhead.

None of the 85 passengers on the Dec. 1 flight were injured, according to the NTSB. The operator of the Learjet was not identified. Southwest Airlines Co. is based in Dallas.

The following are extracts of the audio recording between the Southwest 737 and the tower (courtesy of LiveATC.net)

00:25 (737 to tower): Yeah, we just had a plane take off on 31 Right - You told us to cross.

00:33 (737 to tower): OK, if you just copied, you cleared us onto a runway there was a plane taking off.

01:01 (737 to tower): I want you to acknowledge you cleared us onto a runway where a plane was taking off. Do not get ground.

*** 01:31 (737 to ground control): Be advised, tower (unintelligible) us to cross 31 Right and a Learjet of some sort was taking off, we had us hit the brakes, and the thing went right over our head.