A United Express flight had to brake and swerve at 140 mph to avoid by about 10 feet a small plane on the same Pennsylvania runway, airport and federal officials said Monday.
The flight crew of Chicago-bound Flight 7138 spotted the Cessna four-seat propeller plane just ahead of it and aborted takeoff Friday night at Lehigh Valley International Airport, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
Officials said the Cessna had just landed on the same runway but missed its exit.
"It was very fortunate that they were as prepared for this incident as they ended up being," said Larry Krautter, the airport's deputy executive director. "Their reaction was extraordinary. The airmanship involved was absolutely extraordinary. They are to be congratulated for how well they handled it."
No injuries were reported among the 60 United passengers or to those aboard the Cessna. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said he didn't know the Cessna pilot's name or how many people were on the smaller plane.
The United plane did not appear to sustain any damage from the aborted takeoff and taxied back to the airport under its own power, Knudson said. The flight was rescheduled for Saturday morning.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said that a trainee in the airport's control tower mistakenly thought the Cessna had left the runway and cleared the United Express flight for takeoff.
The union, which has complained that the Federal Aviation Administration has too many trainees at air traffic control facilities, said in a statement that 11 of the 31 controllers at the Lehigh Valley airport are trainees.
"This was a very serious incident that points out all of the problems with the ramifications of the FAA's understaffing issues nationwide and our concerns about allowing newly and partially certified controllers to work on their own," NATCA President Patrick Forrey said in a statement.
The United plane was operated by Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group Inc., a major commuter carrier that flies as Delta Connection, US Airways Express and United Express under agreements with Delta Air Lines Inc., US Airways Group Inc. and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines.
United Airlines spokesman Jeff Kovick said the airline is cooperating with federal authorities.
Allentown is about 48 miles north of Philadelphia.