Crash narrowly avoided after pilot mistook hotel for runway

A CHARTER plane with 118 passengers and crew on board narrowly avoided crashing into a hotel near Ballymun after its pilot mistook the lights of the 16-storey building for the runway at Dublin Airport.

A final report into the incident published yesterday established that the Aviajet aircraft was just 200ft above the height of the hotel at Santry Cross before the pilot took corrective action, less than 570 yards from the building.

The report by the Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Unit blamed the near-accident on the decision of the plane’s crew to use only visual cues on their approach into Dublin Airport.

However, it acknowledged that the red lighting on the hotel’s roof combined with its white internal lights could be mistaken for the approach lights of the airport’s runway.

Tests carried out using an Aer Corps helicopter established that it was “readily apparent” that the hotel’s lighting under night conditions resembled the runway’s approach lighting.

But the report also claimed contributory factors were the crew’s failure to follow standard operating procedures and poor communications and situational awareness by the two pilots.

An AAIU investigator also noted that a controller in the tower at Dublin Airport was distracted by maintenance work on one of the runways at a crucial time when he was the only person on duty.

The plane’s deviation “may have been identified earlier” if there was an additional air traffic control officer to share the workload. The report recommended the IAA examine manning levels of the tower at night, and during periods of routine maintenance.

However, it stated that the controller’s intervention “although somewhat late” was the main reason a serious accident was avoided.

The incident occurred at 11.34pm on the night of August 16, 2007, when the McDonnell Douglas jet was carrying 112 passengers and six crew on a charter flight from Lisbon to Dublin.

The tower controller noted the aircraft’s deviation from the correct flight path and warned the flight crew: “You’re not landing on the runway,” before instructing them to begin an immediate climb to 2,000ft.

The report noted that the hotel, understood to be the Days Hotel at Santry Cross, was equipped with proper aviation hazard lighting.

However, the AAIU recommended that the Irish Aviation Authority take account of the potential for confusion by pilots when deciding on the type and positioning of warning lights near airports.

Aviajet, it was noted by investigators, is in administration since December.


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