"Chicago Municipal Airport, or “Munie,” as early pilots knew it, earned the title of “World’s Busiest,” after serving more than 100,000 passengers in 1932, just five years after it opened. In 1949, the Chicago City Council changed the airport’s name to Chicago Midway Airport in honor of the Battle of Midway in World War II. But while Chicago’s larger airport, O’Hare International, claimed the “World’s Busiest” title in recent decades, Midway has grown as well, using every square inch of its cramped quarters in a densely populated neighborhood 10 miles south of downtown Chicago.
Midway Tower controllers oversee well more than a quarter of a million operations annually – earning the airport’s nickname of “World’s Busiest Mile” – and now more than ever must remain on their toes to keep the tightly choreographed traffic flows safe and efficient.
Such was the case on the morning of August 4, 2005. Controllers were using Runways 22 Left (22L) and 31 Center (31C), which cross in the middle to form one of the most famous runway layouts in aviation. On this day, in Instrument Landing System (ILS) conditions, controllers were using the familiar circling approach to 22L. It’s a very demanding approach considering the mix of aircraft that circle because there is no straight-in approach due to the proximity of the downtown Chicago skyscrapers.
The local controller in the tower instructed United Airlines Flight 1429, an Airbus 320, to taxi into position and hold on runway 31C. The same controller then told a taxiing aircraft to hold short of 31C before clearing an Exec Jet for takeoff off on Runway 22L. Moments later, the controller made contact with Southwest Airlines Flight 1486, a Boeing 737, telling the pilot to taxi into position and hold on 22L. Southwest 1486 was tightly sandwiched between the departing Exec Jet and another Southwest flight on final approach to 22L.
With United 1429 still holding on 31C, the local controller gave Southwest 1486 its clearance for an immediate takeoff from 22L. The Southwest 1486 pilot acknowledged his takeoff clearance. Then, just as the local controller moved on to issue a landing clearance to another aircraft, Kevin Rojek, who was working the ground control position, alertly noticed that the pilot of United 1429 – after apparently believing the takeoff clearance given to Southwest 1486 was meant for him – had begun his takeoff roll. Both jets were rolling down crossing runways and on a collision course to meet at the intersection.
But upon hearing Rojek say “rolling,” the local controller turned to see the aircraft and immediately got on the radio. With his voice rising, he sternly said, “United stop! United stop!” United 1429 stopped approximately 1,000 feet short of Runway 22L. After Southwest 1486 rolled through the intersection and took off, United 1429 crossed 22L, taxied back around the tarmac as his brakes cooled and eventually made its way back to Runway 31C for departure.
Said Midway NATCA Facility Representative Ron Adamski: “Kevin’s quick action and alertness allowed the local controller to stop the United aircraft prior to a meeting at the intersection with the Southwest jet. Kevin’s alertness should be recognized for saving a potential intersection collision.”
As Southwest 1486 began his ascent, the local controller gave him one more instruction, handing him off to Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control: “Southwest 1486, contact departure.” The Southwest pilot, cognizant of the disaster averted when the controller stopped United 1429’s departure roll, replied: “Fourteen eighty six, switching. See ya. Thank you.”"
CHICAGO MIDWAY TOWER
CONTROLLER: Scott Strader
August 4, 2005
STRADER: ExecJet six forty two traffic’s just on the downwind, two east of the field, (runway) two two left position and hold.
EXECJET 642: Position and hold two two left ExecJet six forty two.
STRADER: United fourteen twenty nine Midway Tower, runway three one center position and hold.
UNITED 1429: Position and hold three one center United fourteen twenty nine.
STRADER: ExecJet six forty two turn right; a right turn the long way around heading one one zero. Best rate of climb to three thousand, you’re cleared for takeoff.
EXECJET 642: OK, right turn heading one one zero best rate to three thousand clear, ExecJet six forty two.
STRADER: Southwest fourteen eighty six, (runway) two two left position and hold. Don’t plan on stopping after departure, two two zero’s your heading. Your company’s just starting base two east.
SOUTHWEST 1486: Southwest fourteen eighty six position and hold two two left.
STRADER: Southwest fourteen eighty six traffic off the end’s a right turn out fly heading two two zero cleared for immediate takeoff.
SOUTHWEST 1486: Southwest fourteen eighty six is cleared for takeoff two two zero on the heading.
STRADER: Excellent. Just go.
STRADER: Southwest nineteen zero one you’re following traffic just a mile final now, you’re runway number two for runway two two left, cleared to land.
STRADER: United stop! United stop!
STRADER: United fourteen twenty nine, just uh make a right turn and stop the aircraft.
UNITED 1429: United fourteen twenty nine.
STRADER: ExecJet six forty two right heading one one zero, (contact) departure.
EXECJET 642: One one zero departure six forty two.
STRADER: Southwest fourteen eighty six contact departure.
SOUTHWEST 1486: Fourteen eighty six switching. See ya. Thank you!