The first indication of a problem in the near collision on a Kennedy International Airport runway in New York last month was the hurried voice of an Israeli pilot, describing what he saw, through fog and heavy rain, as he rolled down what he thought was a taxiway.
"Ground, Israir," said the pilot, calling the ground controller in the nearby tower and identifying his own airline. "Ground, Ground, Israir - oh, he is taking off!"
The Israir Airlines plane, a flight to Tel Aviv that was fully fueled and carrying 262 people, was not on a taxiway, but sitting sideways near the middle of runway 22-right, where it had blundered after its crew missed a turnoff.
An Airborne Express cargo jet, barreling down the runway, managed to take off early, narrowly clearing the top of the Israir plane, a Boeing 767 passenger jetliner.
Two tape recordings released Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration show the complete confusion of the Israir pilot and the tower controllers.
Shortly after the captain of the cargo jet, a DC-8, avoided a collision, he radioed the tower. "See that aircraft on the runway 22-right?" he asked.
The tower controller gave him the frequency of the next controller to contact. But the captain persisted, "Did you see the aircraft?"
"I can't see a thing," the controller snapped. "But he's calling me now."
On a different frequency, the Israir pilot was trying to make contact with the other tower controller. An exchange followed, in which seven calls were made back and forth between the tower and the Israir plane.
Finally, the ground controller asked, "Israir 102, are you clear?"
"We are now clear of the runway," the pilot replied. "We crossed the runway."
The ground controller said, after a pause, "You crossed the runway!"
"Affirmative, we crossed the runway by mistake," said the pilot.
Language problems have caused crashes, but this pilot spoke English well.
A spokeswoman for the aviation agency, Laura Brown, said the investigation of the incident, which occurred shortly before 2 a.m. on July 6, was continuing. No changes in equipment or procedure have been made, she said.
Barrett Byrnes, president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the solution would be to install newer electronic sensing technology, called ASDE-X, used at other airports.
"It's going to take a collision on a runway at a major airport that doesn't have the ASDE-X technology to get the FAA to move or Congress to provide the equipment," he said.