Nearly two months after Continental Flight 1404 went off the runway at Denver International Airport, air traffic control audio from the December incident has been released.
On Saturday, Dec. 20 Flight 1404 ran off the runway at DIA and caught fire a short distance from the fire house. Air traffic controller Tom Hedeen can be heard on the audio tapes calmly working with ground operation vehicles to help them locate the scene and other pilots to reroute flights away from the accident scene.
In the tapes, an unidentified pilot tells Hedeen, “Tower it looks like you have a plane go off three four right on the left side.”
Hedeen asks the pilot to repeat himself and pauses momentarily after hearing that a plane is off the runway. Hedeen quickly starts rerouting other planes on the runway.
Moments later, the unidentified pilot says, “Looks like fire over there.”
Hedeen immediately calls out for operations vehicles on his frequency.
“Any ops vehicle on Denver Tower? Any ops vehicle?” he said. “Ops 9, just had an aircraft departure off three four right, exited the runway at whiskey charley, appears to be on fire immediately adjacent to the fire house. Red alert.”
Click the image to enlarge the map. The crash and fire occurred as Flight 1404 ran off the left side of Runway 34R just north of its intersection with WC. It ended up just northeast of Fire Station #4. Click here to watch two animations showing the jets path and its relationship to the firehouse.
The runway is then shutdown and several operations vehicle respond. One travels in the wrong direction, away from the distressed plane. Air traffic controllers quickly realize the emergency crew is going the wrong direction.
Hedeen said, “And Ops seven it appears your truck is going southbound on three four right. Is that what they want to do, away from the aircraft?”
Ground crew ops 7 responded, “I’ll turn ‘em around tower. I’ll turn ‘em around.”
“Yeah, he was stopped at whiskey charley. It looked like he was going right at it. It’s north of whiskey charley. I can see the glow north of whiskey charley and west of three four right,” Hedeen said.
An unidentified voice on the ground responded, “Come on guys.”
In an apparent attempt to reorganize the ground crews Hedeen said, “OK, everybody that’s on three four right needs to go northbound. It’s immediately adjacent to the fire house. It’s on whiskey charley.”
Ground crews eventually arrived at the scene where they were met with heavy flames and a fully engulfed aircraft. Crews were able to extinguish the fire, which spread as the plane’s 110 passengers and five crew members evacuated. While dozens were injured, no one died.
Hedeen will be one of 16 honored by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for their handling of 11 emergencies last year.
They will receive the union’s Archie League Medal of Safety, named for the man considered to be the first air traffic controller.
The awards will be presented Tuesday in Las Vegas.
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