Cargo jet lands in grass at O'Hare, narrowly missing passenger planes

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The I-Team is investigating an alarming incident at O'Hare this past June where a Taiwan-based China Airlines Cargo flight mistakenly touched down in the grass, missed the runway and careened close to taxiing passenger aircraft. It was a perilous incident the FAA calls "so very rare" that they don't have numbers on how often it happens.

The I-Team obtained surveillance video of the incident via the Freedom of Information Act.

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Tower surveillance footage obtained by the I-Team.

Incident investigation photos taken just after the botched landing show long tire tracks cutting through the grass, away from the runway, towards the waiting planes.

Lewis University aviation professor and airline pilot Dr. Randy DeMik said a system on an aircraft, called a localizer, lines planes up with the center of the runway. He said because it was overcast and raining that day pilots wouldn't have been able to see the runway until they were below the clouds at 500 feet, which is typically plenty of time to get a plane back on line for landing or abort and "go around" to try again.

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The I-Team spoke with aviation expert Dr. Randy DeMik about the China Air landing at O'Hare.

A computer recording of the airfield that morning obtained by the I-Team via the Freedom of Information Act shows just how close 5148 was to the five passenger aircraft waiting to take off.

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A computer recording of the landing obtained by the I-Team.

Pilots have what's called the TOGA switch, for Take Off Go Around, that can automatically send a plane back airborne if something's not right while landing. In this case the plane ran into a windsock, guidance sign, and threw mud on the runway.

After the plane landed safely on the second attempt about 20 minutes later, investigation records show the pilot wouldn't communicate with the tower. On an O'Hare Communications Center recording, a dispatcher is heard telling a Chicago police officer to try to figure out what happened.

"He took out a bunch of signs," said the dispatcher. She continued, "the tower's trying to get information from the pilot but the pilot's not giving up any information whatsoever."

When CPD arrived at China Airlines Cargo's O'Hare location, the pilot told authorities he "realized he was off the center line and was in the grass," "regained control of the aircraft," and executed an emergency go-around because there wasn't "enough runway to complete the landing."

CLICK HERE to read the police report

It has been radio silence from China Airlines Cargo in response to emails sent by the I-Team asking for comment. O'Hare-based representatives would only say they're "not authorized to comment on this incident." Company superiors did not respond.

The FAA's ongoing investigation will likely be able to answer key questions about how the plane ended up on the grass and narrowly avoided disaster.
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