In a nail-biting incident above Portland Airport on October 16, 2023, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 came perilously close to colliding with a SkyWest plane, sending shockwaves through passengers and aviation enthusiasts. The dramatic near-miss occurred in the midst of “tornadic activity,” a stormy weather event, in Oregon.
The Alaska Airlines flight, originating from Orange County, California, was hurtling along at over 200mph when it suddenly aborted its landing to avert a potential disaster. This hair-raising incident transpired shortly after the SkyWest plane had taken off from a parallel airstrip to the north.
Air traffic controllers played a pivotal role in preventing a catastrophic collision. Shocking audio recordings captured the controller’s repeated urgent instructions to the Alaska flight, their voice growing more frantic as the two aircraft approached each other. The close call brought the planes within 250 feet of each other, which is half of the minimum distance stipulated by the FAA to define a ‘near midair collision.’
Alaska Airlines promptly acknowledged the incident and stated that they are reviewing it, with the primary focus being the safety of passengers and employees. They emphasized that the flight crew of Flight 1299 followed cockpit indications and reacted immediately to ensure separation from the other aircraft, maintaining a safe lateral distance throughout the entire event.
SkyWest, in a separate statement, assured that the safety of their flight was never compromised during the incident. The FAA has launched an investigation to determine the closest proximity between the two aircraft, as part of their standard procedures.
This heart-stopping incident sheds light on the challenges faced by air traffic controllers, operating in a system marred by understaffing and mandatory overtime. As close calls like these become more frequent, the aviation industry grapples with the pressing need for adequate staffing to maintain safety standards. Fortunately, despite such close shaves, fatal incidents involving major U.S. airlines have been remarkably rare in recent years.
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