03/15/2013 06:05 EDT | Updated 03/15/2013 07:59 EDT

Driverless Van At Pearson: Air Canada Plane Nearly Collides With Vehicle At Airport


Investigators are trying to find out how a driverless van nearly collided with a plane landing at Toronto's Pearson International Airport Monday night.

The incident began around 11:40 p.m. when a van belonging to a Sunwing Airlines worker was left running and in gear. The employee was working on a Sunwing-owned Boeing plane when they failed to notice the van roll away. The van clipped the engine cowling of a Sunwing plane before rolling onto runway 24R, one of Pearson's five runways, reports the National Post.

The unmanned van nearly missed hitting an Air Canada plane with 67 people on board who had just flown in from Edmonton. As the plane was about to land, Toronto air traffic controllers radioed the crew on board telling them to "pull up" on two occasions but both warnings were ignored. The plane missed the van by about 40 feet, which later rolled into a grassy area and was stopped by airport officials, according to Global TV.

Now the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has launched a full investigation, focusing on why the pilots ignored the warnings from air traffic control and why the van was allowed to enter the runway in the first place. Though no one was hurt and the plane made a safe landing, one of the investigators with the case says the incident stands out because of the unmanned vehicle.

"That's highly unusual," Ewan Tasker, one of two investigators who conducted an initial probe, told the CBC.

When asked, pilots told traffic control that they thought the orders were for "someone else", according to the Toronto Star.

For now, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is calling the incident a runway incursion, one of 4,100 that have happened in Canada since 2001 according to a YouTube video posted by the TSB. Earlier in March, the TSB said that Pearson Airport lacked the proper equipment to detect an incursion.

"Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport—Canada's busiest airport—provided insufficient warning time to avert a potential collision, and that this system could not be enhanced due to the type and age of its software," wrote Kathy Fox a board member with the TSB.

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