A Southwest Airlines aircraft took off over an ambulance that had accidentally driven onto the runway at Baltimore International Airport, safety investigators have revealed. The incident was rated as a Category B runway incursion, meaning there was significant potential for a collision.
The near miss occurred in January but was only made public on Wednesday after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a safety alert to U.S. airlines telling them to take action after six serious runway incursions were reported in less than three months.
The Southwest-operated Boeing 737 was bound for Chicago O’Hare when it was cleared to take off from runway 15R at Baltimore Airport on January 12. At the same time, an ambulance from the airport’s own fire and rescue service requested permission to cross runways 10 and 15R.
The air traffic control tower ordered the ambulance to cross runway 10 and then hold short of runway 15R, but when the ambulance read back the instructions, they believed they had been given permission to also cross runway 15R.
The control tower seemingly didn’t catch the mistake, and the ambulance drove onto runway 15R as the Southwest aircraft was in its takeoff roll on the same runway.
The aircraft became airborne before the runway intersection where the ambulance had entered but investigators believe there were just 173 feet between the plane and the ambulance.
Last November, two airport firefighters at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport were killed when the fire truck they were traveling in accidentally entered a runway while a LATAM-operated Airbus A320 was in its takeoff run.
The wing of the aircraft clipped the fire truck, causing the plane to burst into flames. None of the passengers or crew was harmed after they managed to evacuate using the plane’s emergency slides.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.