PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The plane carrying the Phillies back from San Francisco Friday morning had a close call while trying to land at Philadelphia International Airport.
Eyewitness News has learned the Phillies' chartered Delta 747 was just seconds away from landing when an air traffic controller told another plane to move onto the runway for takeoff. The Phillies' plane in fact was closer than FAA guidelines generally allow.
The pilot of the plane on the ground, American Airlines 1209, thought it did not seem right.
"The guy on final [approach] looks awfully close," he said to the air traffic controller on an audio recording of the incident obtained by Eyewitness News.
"All right American 1209, hold short of runway 27-Right," the air traffic controller responded.
"Actually, we just passed the hold short line," the American pilot said.
The hold short line is a mark on the taxiway that airplanes are not to cross unless they're taking off or crossing a runway. The air traffic controller then told the American Airlines plane to proceed across the runway.
"American 1209, cross runway 27-Right," he said.
Fifteen seconds later followed this urgent message: "American 1209, no delay cross runway 27-Right!"
"We're not going to make it," the American Airlines pilot responded.
At that point, the air traffic controller asked the Phillies' pilot if he would be willing to switch runways, landing instead on runway 27-Left. That runway had been closed that morning for construction, but an FAA spokesman said coincidentally, it was able to be reopened at this point.
"Negative," responded the Phillies' pilot.
"Go around, climb and maintain 3,000" feet, the air traffic controller told the Phillies' pilot. That means he must abort the landing, circle the airport and try again. In the background, someone shouts an expletive. Moments later an unknown voice is heard saying only: "Wow."
"That's when these airplanes typically have an accident. That pilot wanted no parts of switching runways that close in, two miles in, so he declined that," said aviation attorney Arthur Wolk. "Every airplane that time of the day at this airport was using the very same runway. That creates a problem; it's a traffic jam."
Wolk says it appears the air traffic controller tried to do too much with too little time.
Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro says he noticed the aborted landing onboard the plane.
"Oh yeah, we had to circle, circle back around," he told Eyewitness News when asked about the incident.
A spokesman for the FAA says general guidelines call for planes to be kept three miles apart. But when the American airliner was told to move onto the runway, the Phillies' 747 was only two and a half miles out. When told of that, the spokesman said it's a judgment call on the part of the air traffic controller.
"I think the tower controller was enthusiastic to get two departures out before the Phillies airplane – the 747 – landed," Wolk said. "Unfortunately, things kind of backed up in a hurry and he wasn't able to do that."
Wolk says that's what causes risk.
"That's to me where the series of potential errors that could lead to an incident or an accident began," he said.
Don Chapman, a spokesman for the union representing the air traffic controller, says from his perspective the blame lies with the pilot of the American Airlines flight. He says that pilot moved too slowly.
Reported By: Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3
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