A federal safety investigation has been opened into the near collision of a Southwest Airlines jet with a news helicopter over a Houston airport runway.
Flight 1322, bound for Baltimore, and News 2 helicopter came within 125 feet of each other at Hobby Airport about 12:25 p.m. CDT on April 28, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday. Both pilots took evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding, the board said. There were 140 people on board the jet. No one was injured.
Both aircraft were leaving the airport at the time, the board said. The Boeing 737 had been cleared to depart on Hobby's runway 12R and had just taken off when the helicopter, which had been cleared about the same time to lift off from a different part of the airport, flew into the path of the airliner, the board said.
The helicopter was formerly operated by KPRC-TV in Houston, said station news director Rick McFarland. St. Louis-based Helicopters Inc. now operates the helicopter for KPRC-TV and two other Houston television stations.
The safety director for Helicopters Inc., Bill DeReamer, said its internal investigation found that the pilots of both aircraft had been given unrestricted takeoff clearance by air traffic controllers and were unaware of each other.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been investigating the incident since it occurred, and "it's still an open investigation," said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford. "The purpose is to talk to all parties, find out what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again."
The incident is the second near runway collision in the past two weeks.
The other -- on April 19 in Burbank, Calif. -- also involved a Southwest flight. In that case, an air traffic controller misjudged the spacing between a small private plane and a Boeing 737 with 119 passengers and five crew members, causing the two aircraft to come within 200 feet of each other, Federal Aviation Administration officials said last week.
In February, another Southwest jet descending into the same airfield took evasive action to avoid a potential collision with a small plane. The Boeing 737 from Las Vegas was flying at 6,000 feet and was approximately 20 miles from Burbank when pilots were alerted by an on-board warning system that the airliner was on a possible collision course with a small plane about two miles away.
The warning prompted the pilot to make an emergency descent and then climb, causing one flight attendant to break a shoulder and the other to suffer bruises.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline was cooperating with NTSB's investigation and declined further comment.