Midair plane collision avoided over weekend at SFO 

A plane carrying 251 passengers and 17 crew members came dangerously close to colliding with a small airplane after taking off from San Francisco International Airport on Saturday morning, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The close call occurred shortly after United Airlines Flight 889, a Beijing-bound Boeing 777, was cleared for takeoff around 11:15 a.m., according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The jetliner was set to climb to an initial altitude of 3,000 feet. At 1,100 feet, however, its pilots were blasted with warnings from the air traffic controller and the plane’s anti-collision system that a small plane was soaring uncomfortably close.

The small plane, a Cessna 182, came within 300 feet vertically and 1,500 feet horizontally of the Boeing 777, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

The pilot of the Boeing 777 leveled the plane to avoid a collision, the NTSB said. The pilot of the Cessna also adjusted course, Gregor said.

“Crew members reported seeing only the underside of the [Cessna 182] as it passed,” the NTSB said in a statement.

Federal investigators are probing the incident.

The FAA “generally keeps planes separated by at least 500 feet vertically or 1.5 miles horizontally in the airspace around major airports,” Gregor said.

“The [air traffic] controller should have noticed the position of the Cessna earlier,” he said.

The Cessna had been flying southbound about 2 miles west of SFO at the time the Boeing 777 was cleared for takeoff, the FAA said.

An NTSB investigator was headed to San Francisco on Tuesday, the agency said.



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