Southwest plane narrowly misses Baltimore airport ambulance

A Southwest Airlines jet crashed within 200 feet of an ambulance crossing the runway as it took off at Baltimore Airport – in one of a series of frighteningly close-up operations across the United States.

According to DC News Now on Tuesday, the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) vehicle crossed runway 15R at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) without a permit on Jan. 12.

The Southwest Boeing 737 had just been cleared to take off from the same runway and missed the ambulance by less than half the length of a football field, the outlet reported.

“The next estimated horizontal separation occurred at a distance of 173 feet,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a new analysis of the harrowing incident.

The ARFF driver was told to “stay short” before the runway, but read out the instruction as “ARFF 439 via runway 10 and 15 right.”

Southwest aircraft
A Southwest jet got within 173 feet of an emergency vehicle that mistakenly crossed the runway at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Getty Images

According to the FAA, the controller did not catch the readback error.

Newly released footage showed the alarmed controller informing the ARFF driver of his mistake.

“ARFF 439, you should hold runway 15R short!” says the controller.

By this time the vehicle had crossed the runway and was on an adjacent taxiway when the aircraft continued its takeoff roll and departed.

An airport spokesman confirmed that the vehicle “crossed a runway without approval from air traffic control.”

Instructions from the air traffic controller to the airport vehicle to keep right just before runway 15
The air traffic controller instructed the aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicle (ARFF) to stop just short of the runway,
DC news now

The representative told DC News Now in a statement, “The airport has fully cooperated and shared information regarding the incident with the FAA.

“Based on the review of the incident, new procedures were immediately put in place to ensure safety and prevent a similar incident in the future. Safety remains the top priority for BWI Marshall Airport,” the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the airline said in a statement: “Southwest complies with air traffic control instructions at all times and our crew have done so in this scenario as well.”

The FAA has four severity levels for runway incursions — A, B, C, and D — based on severity. The incident at BWI was classified as Category B.

The driver's incorrect feedback about clearance to cross both runways
The truck driver incorrectly read back that he was cleared to cross both runways. The controller didn’t notice the error, according to the FAA.
DC news now

“Category B is an incident where distance is decreasing and there is significant potential for collision, which may result in a time-sensitive corrective/evasive response to avoid a collision,” the FAA said.

The close call came to light after the FAA held an emergency summit last week in McLean, Va., to address a series of recent safety incidents and near misses.

There have been at least seven other close talks across the country since December.

“There is no question that aviation is amazingly safe, but vigilance can never take the day off,” Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement after the meeting.

The ATC call about the error
After the controller noticed that the runway was being exceeded, he pointed out the dangerous error to the driver.
DC news now

“We have to ask ourselves difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions, even when we are convinced that the system is in order,” he said.

The latest incident happened on Saturday when a Southwest plane was about a mile away from a helicopter practicing landings at Hollywood-Burbank Airport, ABC 7 reported.

The air traffic controller instructed the airliner to abort landing and fly around.

In February, a FedEx cargo plane nearly collided with a Southwest flight in Texas.

The FedEx flight was cleared to land on Runway 18 Left at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport — but seconds later, the Southwest flight was cleared to take off on the same runway.

The FedEx pilot aborted the landing and turned around. Southwest plane narrowly misses Baltimore airport ambulance


JACLYN DIAZ is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. JACLYN DIAZ joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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