United jet was seconds from collision with easyJet plane after controller's slip of the tongue

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United Airlines jet was seconds from head-on collision with easyJet plane after air traffic controller’s slip of the tongue at Charles de Gaulle airport

  • A United jet carrying 73 people was cleared to land on runway 09 right in Paris
  • The controller had meant to say 09 left in the incident on July 20 last year
  • An easyJet pilot preparing for takeoff saw the plane bearing down on them
  • The pilot intervened and the United flight aborted landing seconds before crash

A United Airlines jet landing at Charles de Gaulle airport with 73 people on board was just seconds away from a head-on collision with an easyJet Airbus after a slip of the tongue by an air traffic controller, it has been revealed.

The easyJet plane was preparing for takeoff on the runway of the Paris airport before pilots saw the United Boeing 787 bearing down on them less than 300ft off the ground, according to an official report by the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis.

The near-disaster on July 20 last year occurred after the tower controller mistakenly told the United flight from Newark, New Jersey, that it was cleared to land on runway ’09 right’.

A United Airlines jet landing at Charles de Gaulle airport with 73 people on board was just seconds away from a head-on collision with an easyJet Airbus (file image)

A United Airlines jet landing at Charles de Gaulle airport with 73 people on board was just seconds away from a head-on collision with an easyJet Airbus (file image)

The United plane was on the approach to runway 09 left and the pilots assumed they were being told to ‘sidestep’ to the right.

That day, landings were being carried out on runway 09 left while take-offs were departing from runway 09 right. 

But shortly before the landing of the United flight, an Air France Boeing 787 had demanded to land on runway 09 right, the longer of the two, because of a technical problem, adding to the controller’s confusion. 

The pilot asked for confirmation but used the non-standard word ‘understand’ instead of ‘confirm’ in an English expression not grasped by the French controller.

They said: ‘Understand cleared to land 09 Right, sidestep for 9 Right United 57.’ 

The report stated that pilots should always ask for reconfirmation of an order rather than repeating what they think they heard.

The easyJet plane was preparing for takeoff on the runway of the Paris airport before pilots saw the United Boeing 787 bearing down on them (file image)

The easyJet plane was preparing for takeoff on the runway of the Paris airport before pilots saw the United Boeing 787 bearing down on them (file image)

The controller did not react and at the same time, cleared the easyJet Airbus A320 bound for Malaga to depart from the same runway. 

It was only when the easyJet plane was on the runway and started to move that pilots saw the incoming danger, with the Boeing less than a mile away and travelling at 160mph.

The easyJet co-pilot intervened and said on the radio: ‘Traffic landing 09 right.’

He also told the Boeing: ‘Go around 09 right! Go around!’

The United flight came within 80ft of the ground and was 250ft from the end of the runway before it aborted the landing and redirected its path.

The controller told investigators ‘she thought her tongue had slipped because she was focused on runway 09 right with an Air France Boeing 787 that had just landed there’, according to the report.

The United pilots were also criticised for not using clearer language in their communications with the controller.  

The position of the controller, with no visual on the runways, may have contributed to the mistake, as well as the decrease in traffic due to the Covid pandemic, according to the investigators.  

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