NEW YORK -- Air traffic controllers reported yesterday that two jets filled with hundreds of passengers came within 10 seconds of colliding at John F. Kennedy Airport.
A departing Delta Airlines MD-88 jet pulled up into the air about 1,000 feet before it would have hit an American Airlines Airbus A-300 jet that was taxiing across the runway Thursday evening, according to controllers at the JFK tower that night.
"We were about 10 seconds away from a major airline collision on the runway," said Thomas A. Monaghan, president of the air traffic controllers' local at JFK.
Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration played down the incident, calling it an "operational error," and insisted that the distance between planes was closer to 1,500 feet.
The incident is under investigation by the FAA.
According to controllers, the incident occurred after American Airlines Flight 1190, which had just arrived from Montego Bay, Jamaica, was cleared to taxi across Runway 22 Right to the terminal.
At the same time, the departure controller cleared American Flight 153, a Boeing 767 bound for Los Angeles, for takeoff on Runway 31 Left.
But the crew members of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-bound Delta Airlines Flight 153 -- which had the same number as the other plane awaiting departure -- thought the clearance message was meant for them.
So the Delta pilot started his MD-88 down the 11,351-foot-long Runway 22 Right -- the same runway that Flight 1190 was crossing.
The Delta plane went into the air "just a couple of hundred feet from American 1190 and takes off right over him," Mr. Monaghan said.
He estimated the distance between the jets at between 500 and 1,000 feet -- or about 10 seconds.
Mike Sammartino, a manager in the FAA's air traffic control division in New York, said that initial indications were that American Flight 1190's tail was clear of the runway by the time Delta Flight 153 took off.
However, he said there was a clear violation of safety procedures because "we're not allowed to have two aircraft on the same runway."
Mr. Sammartino said that it appeared that the confusion stemmed from the fact that two planes awaiting takeoff had the same flight number.
Mr. Sammartino stressed that all his information was preliminary, obtained from controllers and FAA managers in the tower.
It would be at least a month before a full report was obtained from tower personnel, he said.