Report: Jetliners within six seconds of collision over Hong Kong
A Cathay Pacific jetliner taxis at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport in 2007.
September 27th, 2011
10:01 AM ET

Report: Jetliners within six seconds of collision over Hong Kong

Two jetliners carrying more than 600 passengers and crew came within seconds of a collision near Hong Kong last week, according to a report in The Standard newspaper.

The Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 and Dragonair Airbus A330 were about a mile apart when their collision avoidance systems issued alerts, according a Cathay Pacific statement. The pilots of the jetliners took evasive action to maintain a safe distance from each other, the Cathay statement said.

“There was no risk of collision and at no time was the safety of the flights compromised. At the closest, they were one nautical mile (2,000 meters) apart when abeam from each other with increasing vertical separation," the Cathay statement said.

But Hong Kong's former civil aviation chief Albert Lam Kwong-yu told The Standard that, based on normal speeds of the airliners involved, they were about six seconds from colliding.

"The chance of a crash is absolutely high," the paper quotes Lam as saying. "The passengers really came back from hell."

The flights involved in the September 18 incident were Cathay 841, en route from New York to Hong Kong, and Dragonair 433 from Kaoshiung, Taiwan, to Hong Kong. The Cathay jet had 317 people aboard and the Dragonair jet had 296 aboard, according to aviation officials.

At the time of the incident, several jetliners, including the Dragonair jet, were in a weather-related holding pattern about 40 miles southwest of Hong Kong International Airport, according to a statement from Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department.

As the Cathay jet approached the holding area, its pilots told air traffic control the 777 had "only 10 minutes' holding fuel" remaining. Another Cathay plane offered to switch landing slots with the 777 and controllers issued directions to both the 777 and the Dragonair A330 as they tried to rearrange the pattern, the aviation department said. During that time, both the Cathay and Dragonair jets failed to respond to an air traffic control command, the department said. The collision avoidance systems were activated after those instructions were missed and the planes went below minimum separation distances, the report said.

The aviation department said there was no risk of a collision, but that it would "conduct a comprehensive investigation" into the incident, including looking air traffic control procedures used during bad weather.

There have been four other near-miss incidents in Hong Kong during the past 11 years:

- In September 2010, a Cathay Pacific plane taking off for London after midnight had to deviate from the runway center line at high speed because the tail of another plane was too close to its path.

- In July 2006, a Dragonair Airbus and a Northwest Airlines Boeing - both heading for Tokyo - were reported 100 meters apart vertically while 80 nautical miles east of the Hong Kong airport.

- In September 2004, a China Southern Airlines plane leaving Hong Kong and an incoming Malaysia Airlines cargo plane came within 304 meters of each other 55 nautical miles south of the airport.

In June 2001, a Dragonair Airbus to Shanghai and a Cathay Pacific flight arriving from Seoul were reported 210 meters apart 110 nautical miles east of Hong Kong.

soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Jeff

    How can there be no risk of collision when such fast moving large objects are so close and their collision warnings sounded? this is yet another example of irresponsible people making fraudulent statements to the public. There is ALWAYS a risk of collision when you take to the skies...how stupid do these people think we are?

    September 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    Where is the human loss in this article? What kind of marketing strategy is this? CNN please think of your advertisers on this page please. You could loose visitors by this way. Your visitors are full of fear and they want something more nasty.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sarah Bean

    Well, considering I just deplaned from seat 17-C on Cathay 841, how the bloody 'ell do you think I am?

    September 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. json

    10 minutes of fuel left? did they set their takeoff fuel load to the minimum for the flight?

    September 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • 777 Glide ratio

      0.0/1

      September 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. trp55

    When pilots make announcements on the flights I usually don't understand half of what they are saying so God knows how air traffic control can understand them, and many of the controllers English is probably just as bad. No wonder instructions are often misunderstood leading to these kind of incidents.
    I notice it seems to have been the same airlines involved in most of the incidents over HK which raises some questions!

    September 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Is please to make

      seat inset behind to tallest feet possible, lunch-board on no-eat rating motion.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paradigmshift

      Don't display your ignorance. Cathay Pacific have some of the best pilots. All of them speak perfect English and many of them are from Australia.

      October 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. laalaa99stl

    I want to thank that Lam dude for having the basic math skills (that the Cathay spokesperson obviously lacked) to point out that two jetliners travelling towards eachother at 300 mph can cover a mile in just 6 seconds.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Leo

    Many aviation spokespeople always try to hide their mistakes under the carpet. In this instance nothing should be compromised or put to chance. In this instance the instruments worked but the human issues and factors still remain questionable. How can Cathay be a safe Airline to travel on and the same can be said to DragonAir? Questions that should arise in public domain is CAN THE CATHAY MANAGEMENT BE TRUSTED IN THIS INSTANCE? even a small shred of error in pilot or air traffic control human errors....one can claim insurance on a lost aircraft but ONE CANNOT BRING BACK THE DEAD and the LOSS and SUFFERING by the NEXT of KIN.....

    CATHAY and DRAGON AIR have to proof that they are safe....

    September 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wait till they fly airliners drone-style from a room in Phoenix by technicians.

      "Damn, Jack, you bumped the joystick!"

      "Oops, sorry,... er, ah, looks like game over for that flight."

      Yeah,...grab me a Fanta, willya? I gotta write a report."

      September 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DumpPerry2012

    This is all because Ragan fired PATCO- good goig Ronie!

    September 28, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. touchit

    i think its racist

    September 28, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
  10. touchitNOW

    me2daddy

    September 28, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    @dumb:
    Pray tell, where are these 'white only' airports located?

    September 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    you can always trust that industry will do the right thing, but only after all other alternatives are exhausted

    October 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. augustghost

    The drive to the airport statistically is far more dangerous

    October 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. 88ren

    This is why we have TCAS (Terminal Collision Avoidance System) on board commercial aircraft today. This technology was developed and eventually mandated following several mid air collisions in busy terminal areas. The collision and crash of a DC-9 (Aeromexico, I believe) and a light general aviation aircraft over Cerritos, California (near LAX) in the late 1980's was a tipping point. Further efforts by the Feds and the Airline Pilots' Association (sorry, union bashers, but a huge part of aviation's remarkable safety record is due to these guys), to get this technology on board have saved a LOT of lives, including those in this incident.

    October 27, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. developer launch

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    May 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
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