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Air traffic controller's slip of the tongue almost caused 2020 plane crash in Paris

There was just 300 feet between them when the planes passed each other at Charles de Gaulle Airport, French investigators concluded.
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A control tower at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2014.Eric Feferberg / AFP via Getty Images file

Two planes came within feet of crashing in July 2020 after a "slip" of the tongue by an air traffic controller at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport, according to a new report.

An incoming plane from Newark, New Jersey, was told to land on a runway where another aircraft was taking off, France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety concluded in a review of the incident published Tuesday,

The United Airlines Boeing 787 was preparing to land as the EasyJet Airbus A320 was getting ready to take off en route to Malaga, Spain, the report said.

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Planes were expected to take off from the 09R runway and land on 09L, the report said. However, the controller accidentally instructed the United Airlines plane to land on 09R.

The United Airlines crew sought to confirm the runway change, saying "understand" and "sidestep for 9 right," rather than left, the report said, adding that the controller did not check the response and moved on, telling the EasyJet flight to prepare for takeoff from 09R.

Upon noticing that the United Airlines plane appeared to be heading toward them, the EasyJet crew alerted the controller and asked why the other flight was maneuvering to 09R.

At an altitude of 300 feet and just over 4,200 feet from the end of the runway, the controller and the EasyJet crew warned the United Airlines flight not to land.

There was just 300 feet between them when the planes passed each other, the report said.

The controller told investigators there were a number of factors at play, including confusion after another flight crew had requested to land on the 09R runway, the report said, adding that she had also been in the process of switching computer screens and could not see the 09 runways because she was facing away from them.

Investigators also concluded there were other factors to consider, too, including that the United Airlines crew failed to use the correct terminology when confirming the runway, the report said.

The bureau also suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic could be partially to blame, because the significant drop in air traffic had the controller out of practice.

United Airlines, EasyJet and the Charles de Gaulle Airport did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Armelle De Oliveira contributed.