Here’s an unconventional tale for you to enjoy, through text and pictures.
It was a regular afternoon on in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Comair 6324 departed FAPE at 10:48 am (Zulu time) on October 27, 2019. The beautiful Boeing 737-800 embarked on a journey expected to last 90 minutes, cruising at the planned altitude of 33,000 ft. It was an entirely normal flight for Comair 6324, until the aircraft entered Cape Town airspace. As the flight begins its approach to land, Comair 6324 checks in with Approach ATC, and proceeds on course for Cape Town, where traffic is notably heavy. Suddenly, ATC communications had seized, and the captain realized he was disconnected from Approach ATC. It was immediately clear Approach ATC was no longer in service, however since the flight was already 8 minutes away from its destination, the captain contacts Cape Town Tower to call inbound. Tower instructs Comair 6324 to make a 360 degree turn going left for spacing, and the captain obliges. Upon completion of the 360, Cape Town Tower went offline. There must have been a power outage which occurred at the airport, nevertheless pilots began communicating with each other through Unicom.
Before being disconnected from Cape Town Tower, Comair 6324 was cleared for landing, at number 4. Upon disconnection, having noticed the heavy traffic, the captain reduced speed to 140 knots to separate himself from the aircraft ahead. The bedlam which followed can only be described as events of catastrophic proportions, with pilots demonstrating a complete lack of spatial awareness and maneuvering capabilities to maintain proper spacing in a crowded airspace. Comair 6324, while on right base, is overtaken by two flights, who intercept the ILS for runway 01 almost simultaneously. The captain maintains 140 to ensure enough space is created to safely land in Cape Town.
Comair 6324 then turns final for runway 1 at Cape Town, having created the space that was needed. However, an Airbus A340-600 flown by South African Airways enters final approach moments later going 215 kts (and followed by several other flights). Comair 6324 and the Springbok maintained their respective speeds, while on final, and there was only one outcome. Such circumstances typically lead to ghosting under the watchful eye of ATC. However, on this occasion, Comair 6324 could do nothing to avert the disaster which was to come. The photos below depict the events which unfolded.
Detailed Flight Information
Expert Server (it’s casual server in disguise at this point let’s be honest).
Time: events occurred between 10:00 - 12:00 zulu
Route: FAPE - FACT
Comair 6324 begins its takeoff roll at 10:48 am zulu time
Standard service, the Boeing 737-800 departs for Cape Town from Port Elizabeth.
It is quite the normal day, and a beautiful day to fly in South Africa. Incredible scenery in the area.
At right base for runway 1 in Cape Town, Comair 6324 reduces its speed to 140 kts for spacing but is immediately overtaken by another flight. The captain remains calm and alert, but unalarmed, knowing his speed will maintain distance from the speedier aircraft ahead.
The captain also is able to see the two aircraft ahead of him simultaneously intercept the ILS at Cape Town airport for runway 01. An unusual sighting for the pilot.
Comair 6324 also turns final for runway 01, but is tailed by Springbok 12, an Airbus A340–600. The captain assumes the other pilot is aware of his proximity to the Boeing 737.
As @jasonrosewell wisely states, “assumptions are never safe”. The Airbus proceeds at high speed on final approach, directly behind Comair 6324.
The Airbus gets closer.
And too close. Disaster unfolds. The image below captures the final moments before the nose of the Airbus clips the left wing of the Boeing 737. A tragic end to what was meant to be a normal, standard, beautiful, scenic spring flight in South Africa.
Recommendation for everyone: Fly as realistically as you possibly can on the expert server! You can get ghosted for this. @Butter_Boi will assemble his investigation team to examine the sequence of events to prevent future mid-air collision incidents and ensure the safety of the IF skies.
Stay tuned for the next episode of “An IF Story”!