Two planes taking off at the same time from Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport missed a collision by just a few hundred feet, officials at the Federal Aviation Administration said. The incident, which happened on May 9, was the third near-miss in the skies over the U.S. in a span of just over two weeks.
The United flights both were cleared to take off close to the same time, with one heading East down one runway and the other taking off to the Southeast on another runway. The air traffic controller in charge then told the eastbound plane — Flight 601 — to turn to the right, putting the two planes on a parallel trajectory. The flight should have been told to turn left instead, USA Today explains.
CBS News got audio of the airport's traffic controllers as they realized the problem. "United 601 stop your turn, stop your — let's just stop your climb and stop your turn 601." The two flights were within eight-tenths of a mile horizontally and and were separated by 400 feet of altitude.
"You all basically crossed directly over the top of each other," one air traffic controller said. Another added: "I have no idea what was going on over there in the tower. But, you know, it was pretty gnarly looking."
No one was injured, but the near-miss was the third almost-air-disaster to take place in the U.S. in less than a month. On April 24, an inbound United flight nearly struck a departing ExpressJet flight at Newark's airport. One day later, a flight near Hawaii plunged 600 feet in a matter of seconds to avoid another plane.