Dramatic aerial footage captured the moments before and during a near mid-air collision between a single-engine Cessna and a Delta Boeing 757 passenger jet over Orlando International Airport in August.
The terrifying video was taken from inside the Cessna and there is no question that a mass casualty collision was imminent were it not for the quick thinking of Malik Clarke, the pilot of the smaller plane. As it was, both pilots spotted each other, but the 757 could not effectively make evasive maneuvers as it ascended and gained airspeed. Clarke, however, handled the situation with aplomb as the two planes ultimately came within 500 feet of each other.
The Cessna pilot related the events to ABC News in a recent interview.
“I knew that this didn’t look right,” Clarke told the outlet, recalling how he saw the passenger jet rapidly climbing through the air on a collision course with his aircraft on August 17. “So immediately I turned right and I climbed as steeply as I could – because the Boeing 757 from Delta has a much higher climb rate than the aircraft that I was flying.”
“If I hadn’t done that evasive maneuver, it’s quite likely there would have been a midair collision,” Clarke told the outlet.
An FAA investigation is underway with a focus on the puzzling case that both pilots were evidently following their respective instructions from Air Traffic Control and the Orlando tower accurately.
Former State Department official and current ABC News contributor Steve Ganyard said that someone was surely at fault for the close call, but he would not specify whether it was Clarke, ground control or the as yet unnamed pilots of the Boeing 757.
“The two aircraft got as close as 500 feet vertically and 1500 feet horizontally, which means way too close,” Ganyard told the outlet.
“It was somebody’s error to put them in the same part of the sky,” he asserted.
(Video: Daily Mail)
Meanwhile, Delta is conducting its own internal investigation, with the union of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association declining to comment as both FAA investigations continue.
A transcript of the exchange between the pilots and the Orlando tower was released by the FAA.
Tower: “Runway 36l, cleared for takeoff. Number 54 kilo, contact departure.”
Cessna pilot: “Going to departure, 54 kilo.”
Tower: “N5254K, Orlando approach, Roger, and what heading did they give you.”
Cessna pilot: “090 we saw it. We saw the guy coming so we just flew 150 now, but they gave us 090 up to 2000.”
Delta pilot: “Tower, we got that traffic that just passed directly above us.”
The would-be catastrophe came just ahead of a busy Labor Day weekend which saw thousands of delays and the cancellation of hundreds of domestic and international flights in the U.S., owing to mishandled COVID crackdowns that have resulted in overworked pilots and airline employees as well as reduction in the number of total flights available.
As BPR reported Monday, under the direction of the Air Line Pilots Association, off-duty pilots for six airlines picketed at more than a dozen airports across the U.S ahead of the holiday weekend, demanding improved working conditions and benefits.
“When ALPA pilots stand shoulder to shoulder in support of shared goals, people notice — our airlines notice,” the group said in a statement.
“That’s why on September 1, we’re asking all ALPA pilots to join us for an ALPA-wide informational picket to show the public, our lawmakers and our airlines that all airline pilot stand together in support of the profession-wide goal of improved working conditions and benefits.”
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