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Plane Lands On Wrong Runway, Narrowly Misses Other Aircraft

April 14, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ An airliner landed on the wrong runway at London’s Gatwick Airport, forcing a Boeing 737 carrying 119 people to swerve into the mud to avoid a crash, authorities said Wednesday.

An air traffic controller spotted the potential danger and prevented a collision, the Civil Aviation Authority said. The 236 people aboard the two planes were unharmed, it said.

The incident happened Tuesday about 10:20 p.m. (5:20 p.m. EDT) when a British Island Airways BAC-111 carrying 117 people was arriving from Venice, Italy.

At Gatwick, about 25 miles south of London, a British Airways Boeing 737 with 119 people was moving along a taxiway toward the runway for takeoff to the Greek island of Rhodes.

Instead of landing on the runway, the incoming aircraft headed toward the adjacent taxiway. When the tower notified the jet of the error, the landing jet threw its engines into reverse and stopped about 750 feet short of a collision, said an aviation authority spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the same time, the British Airways plane, which was moving slowly, swerved off the tarmac and came to a stop in the mud and grass beside the runway, he said.

The aviation authority launched an inquiry and provided no immediate explanation for the near-disastrous error. But Gatwick’s sole runway had been closed overnight for repaving, and the adjacent taxiway was being used as a temporary runway.

Airport managers praised the traffic controller’s alertness in preventing ″an incident becoming an accident,″ a Gatwick Airport spokesman said. He also commended the British Airways pilot for responding ″quickly and positively.″

The 1,300-strong Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators said the incident highlighted the dangers of having just one runway at Gatwick.

″The worry lies in the fact that the British Airports Authority (Gatwick’s operator) are digging up the main runway at one of the busiest times of the year,″ said the organization’s clerk, Capt. Paul Wilson.

The incident follows a series of recent near-collisions in Britain’s skies. The aviation authority says 16 ″risk bearing″ near misses occurred in 1986, the latest figures available. They do not include incidents on the ground.

The airport duty manager, Ian MacCorquodale, said the airport was not overcrowded Tuesday night.

Gatwick, the world’s busiest single-runway airport, was closed for 20 minutes while the British Airways jet was towed away undamaged, the aviation authority spokesman said.

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