Skip to content

6 Chilling Details of Near Plane Disaster at JFK Airport

“Delta 1943, cancel takeoff!”

Audio files have been released from the near-miss incident at JFK airport, where a Delta jet almost collided with an American Airlines plane that had "gone rogue." The Delta plane was traveling at 115 mph and came to a stop barely 1,000 feet away from the AA flight, avoiding what might have been an absolutely horrific accident on the tarmac.

"We're talking split seconds here, but the initial cognition was this is not going to end well," Delta customer Brian Healy told NBC News. Here's what the exact conversation between air traffic control and the two planes played out when they realized a fatal collision was about to happen.

Wrong Runway

An American Airlines plane on the runway

According to The Daily Mail, Federal Transit Authority recordings begin with an American Airlines pilot saying the plane was ready to taxi onto the runway and being given the go-ahead by air traffic control to go to "runway 4 left and hold short of Kilo."

The pilot repeated the message before she was told to "cross runway 31 left at Kilo", and that's when it all went pear-shaped—the American Airlines plane approached the incorrect lane and went straight ahead instead of turning, putting it right into the path of the Delta plane.

Cleared For Takeoff

A Delta Air Lines jet taxiing on the runway at an airport

Meanwhile, the Delta plane was reportedly told it was cleared for takeoff, and the pilot responded with, "Cleared for takeoff, runway 4 left, Delta 1943." As the Delta plane headed down the runway at 115mph, air traffic control realized it was about to collide with the rogue American Airlines flight and responded in understandably colorful language. "F—! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!" a panicked controller can be heard saying.

Disaster Averted


While the Delta plane was being warned to stop, another air traffic controller was reportedly telling the AA flight, "America 106 Heavy, America 106 Heavy, Heavy hold position… American 106 Heavy hold position." The Delta plane managed to stop before colliding with the AA flight, and disaster was averted.

Cool and Calm


The Delta pilot sounds calm and collected after the incident. "Yeah, we're gonna have to go somewhere, run a couple of checklists and probably make some phone calls for Delta 1943," he told Air Traffic Control. Meanwhile, the AA pilot was told they were in the wrong place. One of the pilots said, "The last clearance we were given, we were cleared to cross, is that correct?" "I guess we'll listen to the tapes, but you were supposed to depart (runway) 4L. You're currently holding short of runway 31L," an air traffic controller responded.


A commercial airline pilot pressing controls in the cockpit

Passenger Healy says he canceled his Delta flight following the incident and was given a full refund. "There was this abrupt jerk of the plane, and everyone was sort of thrust forward from the waist," he says. "There was an audible reaction when the brakes happened, like a gasp. And then there was a total silence for a couple of seconds. As the plane came to a stop, I realized we'd be OK. The pilot made the call to only share information on a need-to-know basis, and that was absolutely the right call, because it would've been pandemonium."

Flight Delays

An American Airlines flight taking off

The American Airlines flight took off for the UK as scheduled, but the Delta flight to the Dominican Republic was rescheduled for Saturday morning. "The safety of our customers and crew is always Delta's No. 1 priority," an airline rep said. "Delta will work with and assist aviation authorities on a full review of Flight 1943 on Jan. 13 regarding a successful aborted takeoff procedure at New York-JFK. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and delay of their travels." American Airlines has declined to comment.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
Filed Under