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JFK Airport runway close call could've involved multiple planes; Here's what an expert thinks happened

How a potential disaster was averted at JFK Airport
How a potential disaster was averted at JFK Airport 01:59

NEW YORK -- A close call last week at John F. Kennedy International Airport could've been a potential disaster involving several planes. 

Officials say just before 5 p.m. on April 17 a Swiss Air flight bound for Zurich was moments away from takeoff when the pilot spotted other planes crossing the same runway. 

The Swiss aircraft had just begun its taxi for takeoff and aborted the procedure upon seeing the crossing traffic.

According to a statement from Swiss Air, the aircraft had already reached a speed slightly above the maximum for taxiing when the pilot decided to brake suddenly. The airline said the timely action ensured that a potential disaster was averted.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident. 

Aviation expert explains what might have happened

Al Yurman, a professional air safety investigator who used to work for the National Transportation Safety Board, played the air traffic control audio of the tense moments.

"Evidently what happened was the tower controller cleared this Swiss Air to take off. The ground controller told these three aircraft there in separate areas to cross the runway, the active runway," Yurman said.

The following is the air traffic control audio with the planes involved:

Swiss Air flight: "Swiss 17K heavy, rejecting takeoff, traffic on the runway."

JFK tower: "Delta, no. Delay please."

Delta flight: "Copy."

Swiss Air flight: "Do you copy? Swiss 17K heavy."

JFK tower: "Swiss 17K, roger, continue on the runway, exit on 31L."

Yurman showed CBS New York the JFK Airport diagram, where the planes were approved to cross.

"If you're landing on one runway, in order to get to the terminal, you have to go across," Yurman said.

The FAA is investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident to ensure that proper safety procedures were followed and to prevent similar incidents in the future. Yurman said it could have been an issue of miscommunication between air and ground control, but added it's too early to say.

CBS New York reached out to the controllers union, but all it could say is it has a policy of not commenting during an open investigation.

Last week the FAA announced it would increase the number of hours air traffic control are required to rest between shifts. The FAA also plans to increase staffing. But, again, authorities said it's too early to say if they were factors in this incident.

Similar incident happened at JFK in 2023

The pilots of an American Airlines plane taxied across the wrong JFK runway on Jan. 13, 2023 -- into the path of another jetliner that was taking off -- after the captain became distracted and confused about takeoff instructions and the co-pilot lost track of their plane's location, the NTSB revealed in documents earlier this year.

Disaster was averted because an air traffic controller -- using an expletive -- shouted at pilots of the other plane, a Delta Air Lines flight, to abort their takeoff.

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