HOUSTON -- Two United Airlines flights came within a few hundred feet of each other earlier this month while both were taking off at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The close call occurred on the night of May 9 and involved United Flight 601, an Airbus A320 that was departing for Vancouver, British Columbia, and Flight 437, also an Airbus A320 that was heading for Mexico City. Each aircraft can carry nearly 150 people.
According to the FAA, Flight 601 took off from Runway 9 heading east, while Flight 437 departed from Runway 15 left heading southeast. Moments later, Flight 601 was told by air traffic control to turn right.
"Flight 601 turn right parallel traffic," the controller can be heard saying on Live Air Traffic's recordings.
The plane should have been asked to turn left. The right turn put it right in the path of the other plane. The two aircraft came with eight-tenths of a mile and 400 feet of altitude of one another.
Afterward on air traffic control recordings, a pilot can be heard asking, "Hey, you know what happened there?"
Another pilot answers, "You all basically crossed directly over the top of each other."
"That's what it looked like from my perspective," the other pilot answers. "I have no idea what was going on over there in the tower. But, you know, it was pretty gnarly looking."
The pilot of Flight 601 says, "I'm guessing he was supposed to give us a left turn."
The controller who ordered the wrong turn quickly saw the problem and ordered both planes to separate, which they did, the FAA said.
This is the second recent near-miss incident involving United planes. Last month, a close call occurred at the Newark airport.
Sources told KHOU that the controller responsible for the wrong turn may have been in on-the-job training at the time of the incident. The FAA would not confirm that.
The FAA investigation is ongoing.