It was a clear night, with the runway in sight. On short final, the pilot had received final VFR clearance for landing on 28R.
The only problem was that the pilot was lined up on his VFR (visual) approach to set his 320 down on the taxiway, not the runaway.
According to ATC radio recordings, the pilot seemed a little confused in his approach, reporting seeing “lights on the runway.”
“There’s no one but you on the runway,” responded the SFO tower controller.
Within seconds the United pilot at the front of the queue on Charlie radioed “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway!”
The controller urgently called a “go around.” By then the landing pilot realized his mistake and had already begun to abort his approach, but not before getting uncomfortably close to setting down on top of the idling airliners.
Go around, go around, go around…
The landing, takeoff, and taxi of airliners at and around a major airport is a synchronous dance of coming and going. For aviation nerds like yours truly, listening to the radio chatter of NorCal Approach is fascinating. Call and response. Call and response.
But what if there is a call, and no response?
Earlier this week, Air Canada flight 781 from Montreal was cleared to land on 28R. About six miles out, the crew gave an affirmative response, acknowledging their landing clearance.
As flight 781 approached the runway threshold, the ATC controller was concerned the previous arrival on 28R may not clear the runway in time for Air Canada’s touchdown. ATC repeatedly called “Go Around.”
Six times in 30 seconds: Go around, go around, go around, go around, go around, go around.
Flight 781 continued to bear down on the runway.The tower controller then deployed the Big Red Light Gun. A blazing red beacon aimed directly at the cockpit of the approaching
Still no go around.
Fortunately, flight 781 landed safely and the previous flight had cleared the runway.
Upon landing, the crew explained, over the radio, the lack of response to both the calls for a go around and the light gun as a “radio problem.”
“That’s apparent,” replied the controller.
The FAA is investigating.
Let’s stay sharp out there.