On September 23, a fighter plane and a private jet almost collided, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The two aircraft came within just 200 feet of one another, according to a preliminary account from the Federal Aviation Administration viewed by the newspaper. But thankfully the pilot of the private plane took evasive action, avoiding a crash. (Apparently, the fighter plane also flew near a runway where a small propeller-powered aircraft was taking off.)
In a statement, the FAA said that it is investigating the near catastrophe. The private plane was a Cessna Citation registered to NetJets, which did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment. The operator of the F/A-18 fighter jet is unknown, but the Navy and the Marine Corps both use such planes. Neither military branch responded to the newspaper’s requests for comment either.
During the incident, it seems like an air traffic controller was unsure about what the fighter jet’s pilot planned to do. Archived recordings show that the private plane was cleared to land as the military plane approached Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The fighter asked permission to perform a “break,” in which the plane makes a sharp turn to reduce its speed before landing. About 30 seconds later, the pilot of the Cessna says he received a proximity warning, and another, unidentified voice can be heard on the radio complaining, “That would have been nice to know.”
An unknown air traffic controller, meanwhile, said that he thought the fighter jet would start descending at a different point in the break. The pilot of the F/A-18 denies that, and said that it must have been a misunderstanding. After landing, that pilot asked for a phone number so that he can get in touch with the air traffic control office to discuss the incident.
“Yeah, I was going to give you the number here because I guess there was a miscommunication,” a controller says. “I misunderstood what was requested, I guess.”
The near miss follows a few similar incidents this year: In February, the Austin airport experienced another close call between a Southwest plane and a FedEx pilot, The Washington Post noted. And in July, an Allegiant Air flight attendant was injured after that plane also took evasive action to avoid hitting a private plane.