Air traffic controller mistake almost causes plane crash

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has obtained a recording of an air traffic controller's apology to pilots moments after a dramatic close call between two Delta  Airlines planes at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

An expert told Channel 2's Aaron Diamant just how close the incident came to being a catastrophe.

In the recordings an air traffic controller can be heard saying "Yes just go all the way on Mike, and...uh...yeah, just sorry about that. That was my mistake, guys."

It's the first of two apologies from a controller inside Hartsfield-Jackson Airport's Tower Wednesday moments after he cleared a Delta flight for takeoff, then ordered it to hit the brakes, as a plane that just landed crossed the runway.

Pilot: "We actually had to double check and make sure that we heard you right so that's why it took so long sorry."

Controller: "That's OK. No it's my mistake guys. Sorry about that."

The FAA is now investigating after the pilots performed what Delta called "a high-speed slow down".

"This could have been the worst disaster in aviation history," Air Safety Expert Mary Schiavo said.

Schiavo said the number of runway incursions like this are becoming more common at airports around the country.

"We have seen many cases, many times, where controller was talking on the cellphone, doing something, distracted," Schiavo said.

While the FAA will sort all that out, Schiavo told us she remains convinced.

"For a few seconds, these passengers lives here in danger, saved by the fact that the airspeed had not reached the critical point at which they couldn't stop," Schiavo said.

The FAA says the two planes were a mile and quarter apart when they crossed paths and the incident remains under review.

Delta released the following statement:

"Safety is always our top priority these types of procedures are part of flight crews' extensive training."

Visit Mercer Mess from our station in Seattle, KIRO7.

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