Near Miss Over London

Status: Optical Illusion
image Barry Bland snapped a photograph of two airplanes apparently narrowly avoiding colliding in the sky over London. However, Civil Aviation Authorities are dismissing the photograph as an optical illusion, pointing out that none of their safety systems indicated that the two planes were close to each other. The BBC reports:

British Air Line Pilots Association chairman Captain Mervyn Granshaw described it as a "fluke photograph". He explained how visual factors conspire to make the planes could look closer together, but safety measures meant they could not be in such proximity. While the lower plane was a A300, a smaller freight plane, the one behind was a JAL A330 - a larger, passenger plane. The difference in size, angle of the photograph and the distance it was taken from - the ground to two planes at high altitude - would exaggerate the effect, he said.

I'm inclined to agree that it's just an optical illusion, since I've seen these kinds of "near miss" photos before. (For instance, there's this phony near miss over San Francisco.) The lack of visual reference points in the sky can really play tricks on your eyes. (Thanks to Charlie Wright for the link.)


Posted on Mon Jan 30, 2006


If you want to see some really cool aircraft photos, check this sight out:
There are some really neat optical illusions on this sight as well, you may be able to spend hours there, if you like planes...
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  05:12 AM
Need a link to, you know, a decent picture instead of just a small thumbnail.
Posted by Craig  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  05:13 AM
More information and better pic:
Posted by Craig  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  05:36 AM
The DHL spokesman (quoted on Snopes) is incorrect, 2.5 miles is the horizontal separation between planes on the same flight level. Vertically, flight levels are 1000 feet (300 meters) apart.
Posted by David B.  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  07:38 AM
According to a report in today's Guardian, it almost was a near miss. Apparently, the UK defines a near miss as two aircraft approaching within 1000 feet of each other. The two aircraft in this picture were supposedly on adjacent levels of a stack, which were seperated by (yes) just over 1000 feet!

For someone to get this photo, they must have been within a very narrow cone of vision to the incident. Given that the JAL plane is meant to be about 40% bigger than the A300 (again, according to reports. I haven't checked this out), it should be possible to work out the distances involved.
Posted by John  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  10:41 AM
Anyone notice that, on the snopes site, when you click on the photo to enlarge it, the photo that opens is not the same photo? See tail and nose overlap.

Photographer must have taken a series of photos with the planes in roughly the same orientation for a bit.
Posted by DJ  on  Tue Jan 31, 2006  at  04:24 PM
The Guardian gives their altitudes as 9000 and 10000 feet, and gives the larger, higher plane as a Boeing 777 (probably 777-300).

If we assume that the photographer was looking very nearly straight up (i.e. altitude = distance from observer);
A300, length = 54m, alt = 2700m,
B777, length = 74m, alt = 3000m,

The larger aircraft should appear to be (74/3000)/(54/2700) = 1.233 times the size of the smaller.

Looking at the picture the images of the planes are around 54-56 and 68-70 pixels across; i.e the ratio's between 1.214 and 1.296.

Hence within my margin for error, the planes might easily be 1000 feet apart and are almost certainly more than 500 feet apart.
Posted by David B.  on  Wed Feb 01, 2006  at  07:30 AM
This is clearly a mommie airplane and a daddy airplane who love each other very much, and ....
Posted by cvirtue  on  Wed Feb 01, 2006  at  07:00 PM
AFAIK the length of the Boeing 777 is 209.1 = 67m not 74m?

As this would mean 1.118 times the size "only".
With this it would be not surely more than 1000feet apart?

PS: picture series of this at,,70141-1210748-1,00.html
Posted by Calle  on  Fri Mar 17, 2006  at  04:48 AM
Yes, that is a Boeing 777, not an Airbus 330. You can tell by the underside of the wing.

Airbus A300 dimensions:
Wingspan: 44.8 m
Length: 54.1 m

Boeing 777 dimensions:
Wingspan: 60.9 m
Length: 63.7 m

Boeing 777-300 dimensions:
Wingspan: 60.9 m
Length: 73.9 m

I can't tell what model of Boeing 777 it is.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Fri Mar 17, 2006  at  05:27 AM
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