The person who was struck by a landing Southwest Airlines 737 on the runway at Austin Bergstrom International Airport has been identified, but the mystery remains, and Austin’s airport management has come under fire for letting someone gain access to the runway. But it might not have been their fault.
It was last Thursday night that a Southwest Airlines 737, Flight 1392, arriving on a short leg from Dallas, apparently struck a person on Runway 17R at AUS. That’s the longer of two very long parallel runways and the one favored for use by airliners. The pilot and the tower controller at AUS exchanged a brief communication after the jet departed the runway, but all the pilot said was, “We believe there might be a person on the runway.” The tower directed another jet on final to go around, and then contacted an operations vehicle but referred to “someone walking on the runway,” though by then the victim had apparently already been struck and killed.
And all appearances, at least from a photo of the damaged nacelle of the left-side engine, is that the person was indeed struck by the airplane whose pilot reported the presence of a person on the runway. But whether that person was alive or dead when struck, standing or on the ground, remains to be seen, though it seems most likely he was alive and standing when he was struck—the medical examiner has yet to release any details that might shed light on the subject. Police have been largely mum, as well.
The one new piece of information is the name and age of the deceased person. He was a 22 year-old man named Junin Ko. Authorities haven’t said anything more about him. They haven’t said where Mr. Ko is from, how he gained access to the runway or what his intentions might have been.
He was, according to reports, not an airport employee, so three main possibilities remain, and they’ve been the subject of much speculation online. Was Mr. Ko a stowaway on a previous flight but never made it off the runway or who crossed the runway in a failed attempt to get off the airport property? This is unlikely, though it has happened numerous times before. Was he intending to do harm to himself, or to the arriving flight? Or was he impaired in some way? There remain more questions than answers, and until the authorities have more to say, those questions will have to remain the subject of speculation.
At this point, the airport authority is taking some heat for allowing a person onto the runway, though such criticism might prove to be misdirected. We’ll update this story again when details emerge.