A blundering small-town pilot nearly caused a disaster over Kennedy Airport when he steered his single-engine plane for a landing in front of a Boeing 747 and forced controllers to reroute other airliners out of his meandering path.
Hundreds of lives were endangered around noon Saturday because 69-year-old John Prendergast, a retired Navy pilot from of Sterling, Va., couldn't find his way to Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Long Island.
"I don't know what he's doing — he's going everywhere," a controller said as he radioed warnings of an "unknown aircraft" to passenger jets.
Lost, Prendergast made several 360-degree turns east of Kennedy before he finally appeared to find his bearings — and was escorted to Republic by an NYPD helicopter sent to chase him down.
Prendergast took off Saturday morning from Martinsburg, W.Va., said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters.
He was flying a two-seat RV-7A experimental plane, which records show he built himself. As he neared New York, Prendergast headed up the Jersey Shore, slightly inland, Peters said.
Prendergast's plan — which was not filed with air controllers — was to cross from Colts Neck, N.J., over water to Robert Moses State Park, then head north and west to Republic. But Prendergast hit Long Island further to the west, flying over Long Beach, which is just east of Kennedy Airport.
Then, said Peters, the meandering pilot headed further north — and turned around as if he were going to land with the big jets on Kennedy Runway 22L.
At one point, a Taiwanese Eva Air 747 — heading to New York from Atlanta — flew over Prendergast's plane and had to abort its landing.
"At least twice, he interfered with aircraft that were attempting to land at Kennedy while they were on final approach," Peters said.