'Flymo man' cuts it fine in airport near-miss with plane
Published 04/03/2010 | 05:00
A PASSENGER jet pilot was stunned to find a man driving a lawnmower on the runway as he came in to land at Dublin Airport.
The Boeing 757-200 jet, carrying 198 passengers and eight crew, landed without incident despite its wingtip passing over the man's head at 178kmh.
An investigation by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) revealed numerous systems failures that led to the bizarre incident, which occurred at 2am on May 29, 2009.
The pilot of the charter flight from the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh to Dublin alerted the air traffic control tower of the serious safety breach on his approach to Runway 10.
"Could have sworn I saw a man riding a lawnmower," he is quoted in the AAIU's final report into the incident published yesterday.
"Okay, he was on the right side of the runway, although maybe two thousand feet down, but it looked like a guy just riding a lone tractor lawnmower," he said.
The control tower had granted the pilot clearance to land after being told by the Air Movements Controller (AMC) that the runway was clear.
He was unaware that one of three lawnmowers cutting grass near the runway remained -- a garden-type ride-on mower that was not equipped with flashing beacons or radio communications.
"I don't believe it ... they guaranteed me that they were clear of the runway," the AMC told the astonished pilot.
The operative, who has been branded the 'flymo man', was just 18.5 metres away from the centre line of the runway and oblivious to the Thomson Airways flight approaching until he heard the roar of the jet behind him.
While he had been instructed to leave the runway minutes before due to poor visibility, "he had no idea that an aircraft was landing and he thought he had "an extra few minutes to vacate the runway", the report stated.
"This lack of situational awareness resulted in him not vacating the runway in the most expeditious manner," the report concluded.
The driver -- a general operative who still works for the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) -- had no idea that a plane was about to land.
He had been driving along the runway with one hand held to the wheel and the other clutching a hand-held radio. However, the radio could only pick up frequencies from the maintenance base and not the control tower.
"The first he knew of the landing aircraft was when he heard a roar behind him on the runway as it braked. He stated that after it passed him to his left, he immediately turned right and exited the runway into the grass."
During the ensuing investigation, the driver, who escaped unscathed, said he noticed the runway lights were switched on but had assumed "the electricians were testing them".
He also revealed he stayed on the runway longer than normal before turning off onto a side road because the ground was very soft "and he was afraid he might get bogged down".
The DAA told investigators that cutting the grass -- even at night -- was a priority after pilots had reported that long grass had obscured runway lights due to wet weather.