AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police are investigating after a person was struck and killed by a passenger plane after it landed on a runway at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Thursday night.
Friday, airport officials confirmed to KXAN the person killed was not a badged employee at the airport.
They said they’re working to determine how the person got on to the runway. The airport was operating as normal Friday, but the plane involved in the incident remained grounded. The Southwest Airlines website showed all four of its scheduled flights for Friday were cancelled.
According to a statement from ABIA, the crew of Southwest Flight 1392 reported seeing “an unauthorized individual” on runway 17-Right at 8:12 p.m. ABIA says an Airport Operations crew found the person who had been hit.
Airport units from the Austin Police Department responded to the scene at 8:16 p.m., APD said. Air traffic control workers said they saw a body on the runway, and APD said they found “an obviously deceased male with trauma.”
The man was pronounced dead at 8:41 p.m.
Audio between the Southwest Airlines pilot and the air traffic control tower described what unfolded on the runway.
Southwest: “Tower, Southwest 1392, we believe there might be a person on the runway.”
ABIA Tower: “Southwest 1392, where exactly do you see the man?”
Southwest: “Well they, uh, they’re behind us, they’re behind us now.”
ABIA Tower: “Southwest 1392, roger. So you saw them just after you touched down?”
ABIA Tower: “1392, roger. At your discretion…” [it gets cut off]
Listen to the audio below:
Southwest Airlines said they are “fully cooperating with local law enforcement and FAA as those agencies investigate the event.“
“The Southwest aircraft maneuvered to avoid an individual who became visible on runway 17R shortly after touch down,” Southwest said in a statement.
No injures were reported on-board the flight.
Shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, ABIA said the runway would reopen and operations would resume.
The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement on Thursday night, saying:
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a pedestrian fatality on a runway at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas.
According to preliminary information, the pilot of Southwest Airlines Flight 1392 reported seeing a person on Runway 17-Right, shortly after the Boeing 737 touched down at 8:12 p.m. Central Time on Thursday.
The driver of an Airport Operations vehicle subsequently reported finding the victim on the runway. FAA investigators are on their way to the site and will assist the Austin Police Department and other officials in determining whether the aircraft struck the victim.
Please contact the Austin Police Department and the Austin Aviation Department for additional information about the victim and the operating status of the airport.
The incident will be logged as what the FAA calls a “runway incursion.” This is a reporting classification for incidents that happen when unplanned events happen involving an airport runway.
The FAA categorizes incursions into three categories: Pilot Deviations, Operational Incidents and Vehicle-Pedestrian Deviations. Pilot Deviations are incidents where a pilot ends up on a part of the runway where he/she shouldn’t be. Operation Incidents are incidents connected to Air Traffic Controllers and the vehicle/pedestrian category is for vehicles and people who end up on the runway.
FAA data shows around 1,500 to 1,800 incursions each year. Around 16% are vehicle/pedestrian incursions–the vast majority are Pilot Deviations making up around 60% of the incidents.
An ABIA spokesman said he could find only one incident of a person getting near a runway. That happened in 2018 when a man jumped the fence in a police chase near the South Terminal. The spokesman said the suspect jumped the fence and was arrested while hiding in the woods near Emma Browning Avenue. Four other times people ended up walking out of secured doors or on the apron just outside the terminal, the spokesman told KXAN.
KXAN’s Alex Caprariello was at ABIA on Thursday night and spoke to two travelers in from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina. The passengers were not aboard the plane involved in the incident, nevertheless, they were shaken upon landing and learning the news.
“It’s just mind-blowing,” said Pierce Gulley. “When you’re landing, you’re not thinking about, ‘Is there another person or vehicle on the runway?’ It’s not something that crosses your mind, but we’re just lucky to be here in one piece and safe.”