Southwest Jet Hits, Kills Man While Landing on Texas Runway

(Bloomberg) -- Authorities are investigating how a man managed to get onto a runway at the airport in Austin, Texas, where he was struck and killed by a landing Southwest Airlines Co. jet.

No one on the jet was hurt but the Thursday incident damaged the plane’s left engine.

It’s not clear how the man was able to get onto the runway. Airports are required to have security systems in place to prevent intruders from accessing tarmac and runway areas.

The Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security measures, is working with local police on the investigation, the agency said in an emailed statement. TSA is checking the airport perimeter with the airport’s security team, the agency said.

A pilot on Southwest Flight 1392 reported seeing a person on Runway 17-Right shortly after the jet touched down Thursday at 8:12 p.m. local time, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Police and federal aviation officials are investigating the death of the unidentified man, who was on the western-most of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s two parallel runways.

“We believe there might be a person on the runway,” a pilot on the Southwest plane told the tower air-traffic controller shortly after landing, according to a recording posted on the LiveATC.net website.

After ordering another plane to abort its landing, the controller asked the pilot where he’d seen the person.

“Well, they are behind us now,” the pilot said.

“So you saw them just as you touched down?” the controller asked.

“Affirm,” the pilot responded.

An airport employee later found the body on the runway, the FAA said.

The cover of the jet’s left engine was damaged, said a person familiar with the incident. The person wasn’t authorized to speak about the investigation and asked not to be named.

A photo posted online by CBS News showed a dent at the front of the engine and an apparent hole in the sheet-metal a few feet back.

Pilots on the Boeing Co. 737-700 “maneuvered to avoid an individual” who appeared on the runway shortly after it touched down, Southwest said in a statement. None of the 53 passengers and five crew members was injured.

The victim, an adult male, was pronounced dead at 8:41 p.m., according to a statement from the Austin Police Department.

“Southwest is fully cooperating with local law enforcement and FAA as they investigate this event,” the airline said.

The death is the first involving a large passenger airline in the U.S. since a woman died on April 17, 2018, after an engine on a Southwest jet failed and debris struck a window, causing her to be sucked partly out of the plane on a flight from New York to Dallas.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is charged with investigating aviation accidents, is monitoring the incident, but so far hasn’t sent a team, spokesman Terry Williams said in an email Thursday night. The safety board typically doesn’t probe events considered criminal acts.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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