Circumstances of the fatal runway incident at Austin-Bergstrom airport which involved an arriving Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 have yet to become clear, with air-ground communications providing little further detail on the sequence of events.
The airport’s operator has described the area in which the 7 May incident took place as a “crime scene”, without elaborating.
Flight WN1392’s crew had informed Austin controllers the aircraft was approaching the JEDYE waypoint ahead of an ILS approach to runway 17R, and the jet was subsequently cleared to land.
After the 737 had rolled out another aircraft – a Delta Air Lines Airbus A220, operating as DL819 – was also cleared to land on the same runway.
But after tower controllers started giving taxi instructions to the Southwest crew, one of the pilots interrupted and then stated: “We believe there might be a person on the runway.”
The Delta A220 was instructed to execute a missed approach and climb to 3,000ft before the controller asked the Southwest pilot for more details: “Where exactly do you see the man?”
“Well they’re…they’re behind us now,” the pilot replied.
“So you saw them just after you touched down?” the controller asked, which the pilot confirmed.
After being given discretion to continue to the parking stand, via the G and G2 taxiways, the pilot stated that the aircraft would hold on taxiway G for a time.
A subsequent communication with ground personnel refers to the Southwest report and suggests the crew had “spotted someone on foot” on the runway. The radio transmissions were archived by LiveATC.
Southwest Airlines says the aircraft “manoeuvred to avoid” an individual who “appeared” on runway 17R shortly after the aircraft touched down at about 20:12 – around sunset in Austin. None of the occupants of the jet was injured.
The carrier states that it is “fully co-operating” with local law enforcement and the US FAA as the incident is investigated.
Austin-Travis county emergency medical services stated that it responded at 20:22 to a report of a “person possibly struck by an airplane on a runway” and subsequently mentioned a “deceased on scene” pronouncement for an adult patient, with no further information.
Austin Police, to which the US National Transportation Safety Board has delegated the investigation, has confirmed that the male victim “did not have authorisation to access the airfield”, nor was he an employee of the airport in possession of an airport security access badge.
“Additional details about the identity of the individual or what they were doing on the airfield are unavailable, as the investigation into the incident is still ongoing,” the force adds.
Local television outlet CBS Austin has published a photograph purporting to show the Southwest 737 after the event, with extensive damage to its left-hand CFM International CFM56 engine inlet and nacelle.
Austin-Bergstrom airport’s operator closed 17R, before stating that the “crime scene has been cleared” and maintenance personnel were preparing to re-open the runway.