Mystery: Man Struck By Southwest Plane Landing in Austin Airport Last Night

Southwest Airlines flight WN1392 from Dallas Love Field with 53 passengers and 5 crew on board landed in Austin Thursday night at 8:12 p.m. The plane struck and killed a man on runway 17R, despite seeing him there and – according to the airline – maneuvering to avoid him, though air traffic control audio doesn’t seem to support that explanation.

The runway was closed. The man was pronounced dead on the scene . The area was cleared at around 1 a.m. According to the airport the person “was not authorized to be on the runway.” There wasn’t any construction occurring on the runway. Yet “no suspicious activity is suspected.”

Air Traffic Control audio captured the exchange.

Tower: “Southwest 1392, that’d be golf, taxi via golf, golf 2 to the ramp.”

SWA1392: “Tower, standby, Southwest 1392”

SWA1392: “Tower, Southwest 1392, we believe there might be a person on the runway.”

Tower: “Southwest 1392, roger.” “Delta 819, go around, fly heading 175, maintain 3000.”

Delta 819: “Heading 175, up to 3000, Delta 819.”

Tower: “Southwest 1392, where exactly do you see them at?”

Southwest 1392: “Well they uhh, they’re behind us now.”

Tower: “Southwest 1392, roger, so you saw them just as you touched down?”

Southwest 1392: “Affirm”

Tower: “Southwest 1392, your discretion, taxi via golf, golf 2 to parking.”

Southwest 1392: “Tower, Southwest 1392, we’re gonna turn onto golf and hold position.”

Tower: “1392, roger.”

It seems the pilots hadn’t even processed what had happened.

The man reportedly wasn’t wearing a uniform and had no airprot ID badge.

Who was he? How did he get there? It seems anyone thinking clearly about their situation would recognize it as extremely dangerous. Did they intend to put themselves in that position?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Not sure about the maneuvering to avoid. I fly A-321’s for a major airline but this would hold true for 737’s or really any commercial airliner. Bottom line, you aren’t doing much maneuvering on a landing rollout. We sometimes talk about deer or maybe big birds on the runway, and it basically boils down to “hey, we’re not endangering the aircraft and passengers to save a deer.” Now, we don’t ever really talk about people on an active runway, because it’s honestly never really come up. But realistically, it wouldn’t change the scenario that much. If I saw a person well ahead of us I might be able to safely shift the plane a couple of feet left or right, but only if I could do it smoothly and gradually, which would eat up a ton of runway. If it was a last second “holy crap, there’s a person in front of us!” there’s no way to “swerve” an airplane quickly. Bottom line, depending on where in the landing rollout it occurred, there’s nothing pilots could have safely or responsibly done to avoid the person without seriously endangering everyone on the plane.

  2. One more thing to add. What I described above to avoid something on the runway would be best case scenario, daytime, you see it 2000 feet down the runway, etc. Not sure how dark it is there in Austin right now at 8:12 pm, but if it is dark, the airplane’s landing lights illuminate maybe a second’s worth of distance in front of you. Beyond that, there could be a tractor trailer on the runway and you wouldn’t see it. You’re just relying on the runway lights and markings to keep you lined up. So if it was dark, there is no way they would have seen the person in time to do anything.

  3. @Erik: Sunset was at 8:13 pm in Austin yesterday, so there would still have been plenty of light.

  4. In March I was a passenger taking off from a Botswana air strip in a Mack Air Cessna Grand Caravan EX when the pilot abruptly stopped the takeoff off because an elephant had come out of the forest heading to the airstrip. Went back to the end of the airstrip, watched the elephant lumber off and took off uneventfully. Much happier ending than in Austin

  5. By the looks of that engine inlet and cowling it appears that the aircraft struck more than just a human.

  6. A man committed suicide in Phoenix by running out onto the, at that time, south runway.

  7. I’d heard that Austin was eclectic but never expected to read about people getting run over by airplanes there. Florida Man may be getting some competition for weirdest news.

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