Plane narrowly avoids head-on crash on runway in Colorado after pilot performs last-second maneuver

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Published December 15, 2023, 8:57 p.m. ET

A mid-air miscommunication almost led to a head-on crash on a Colorado runway last year – but the tragedy was avoided by a last-second maneuver by a JetBlue pilot that damaged the plane but caused no injuries.

“I hope you don’t hit us,” the captain of the Beechcraft B300 King Air said over the radio as it touched down toward Runway 10 at Yampa Valley Airport — where the JetBlue Airbus A320 was preparing to take off. according to a report from the National Transit Safety Board published this week.

The near-disaster report comes at the end of a nearly two-year investigation by the NTSB into the Jan. 22, 2022 incident in which JetBlue Airways Flight 1748 suffered significant damage from a tail impact that prevented the collision.

The JetBlue plane’s tail hit the ground as it increased thrust and lifted steeply off the runway as the King Air plane was just 2.2 nautical miles from the airport, video shows, Fox reported Business.

A communications failure led to a near-head-on collision between aircraft in Colorado last year, the NTSB found.The video shows the tail of the JetBlue plane hitting the ground as it attempted to take off quickly. FOX business

Both aircraft had coordinated their flight plans with the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) because Yampa Valley Airport does not have its own air traffic control, the report said.

The Universal Communications Frequency (UNICOM) operator warned both planes of “multiple aircraft” in the sky around the airport.

However, JetBlue, assuming that King Air was much further away, about “8 or 9 miles away,” and would land on Runway 10 behind them, decided to proceed with takeoff.

In the communication, King Air mentioned both “Runway 10” and “Runway 28” – but the plane was actually planning to land on the runway in front of JetBlue.

“Approximately 20 seconds after JetBlue took off from Runway 10, the King Air flight crew asked JetBlue if they were exiting quickly, to which they responded, ‘Yes, sir,’” the NTSB report states.

A communications failure led to a near-head-on collision between aircraft in Colorado last year, the NTSB found.A communications failure led to a near-head-on collision between aircraft in Colorado last year, the NTSB found. NTSB Newsroom/X

“Simultaneous to this conversation, the JetBlue captain raised the aircraft 24 knots ahead of rotational speed to avoid the incoming King Air and subsequently struck the tail of the aircraft on the runway surface,” the agency said.

The report noted that the captain raised the plane’s nose faster than normal “because he was surprised to encounter landing traffic head-on.”

The JetBlue plane took off and then quickly turned right into the air to avoid traffic.

After the rear impact, the JetBlue crew continued its departure toward Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before finally confirming the incident at approximately 16,000 feet.

After climbing another 10,000 feet, they were ordered to land immediately so the aircraft could be inspected for damage and diverted to Denver.

The aircraft suffered “significant” damage and no injuries were reported.

The NTSB concluded that the incident was due to poor communication.

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