Southwest Airlines plane that landed at wrong airport in flight - New York News

Southwest Airlines plane that landed at wrong airport back in the air

Posted: Updated:

By JIM SALTER

A Southwest Airlines flight bound for the main airport in Branson, Mo., instead touched down at a much smaller nearby airfield that gave the pilots only half as much room to stop.

After passengers were let off the jet Wednesday evening, they noticed that the airliner had come dangerously close to the end of the runway, where it could have tumbled down a steep embankment if it had left the pavement.

"As soon as we touched down, the pilot applied the brake very hard and very forcibly," said passenger Scott Schieffer, a Dallas attorney who was among the 124 passengers aboard Southwest Flight 4013 from Chicago's Midway Airport to the Branson airport. "I was wearing a seatbelt, but I was lurched forward because of the heavy pressure of the brake. You could smell burnt rubber, a very distinct smell of burnt rubber as we were stopping."

Branson Airport has a runway that is more than 7,100 feet long -- a typical size for commercial traffic. The longest runway at Taney County Airport is only slightly more than 3,700 feet because it is designed for small private planes.

After the jet stopped, a flight attendant welcomed passengers to Branson, Schieffer said. Then, after a few moments, "the pilot came on and said, `Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to tell you we landed at the wrong airport."'

At first, Schieffer said, he considered it only an inconvenience. But once he got off the plane, someone pointed to the edge of the runway, which he estimated as about 100 feet away.

"It was surreal when I realized we could have been in real danger and instead of an inconvenience, it could have been a real tragedy," he said.

Mark Parent, manager of the smaller airport also known as M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, described the distance as closer to 300 feet. He said the runway is built partly on landfill. At the end there is a "significant drop-off," with a ravine beneath it, then busy U.S. 65 on the other side.

He said a Boeing 737 had never landed at the small airfield, which opened in 1970 and normally handles light jets, turboprops and small aircraft for the charter, corporate and tourism markets.

No one was around at the airport when the Southwest flight landed. Airport staffers had gone home about an hour earlier but were called back after the unexpected arrival, Parent said.

Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest, said everyone aboard the jet was safe. He did not know why the plane went to the wrong airport.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said the agency was investigating, but he declined to elaborate.

Jeff Bourk, executive director of Branson Airport, said the Southwest pilot was in communication with the airport tower, which cleared him to land around 6 p.m. The plane touched down a few moments later at the other airport.

Skies were clear at the time, with the temperature in the 50s, Bourk said.

Passengers were loaded on buses for the 7-mile trip to Branson. Southwest brought in another plane for passengers flying on to Love Fiend in Dallas. That flight departed around 10 p.m., Bourke said.

Hawkins said the aircraft involved in the mistaken landing should be able to take off from the smaller runway, though it was not clear when that would occur.

The minimum runway length needed to take off varies depending on a plane's weight, the temperature and other factors. Based on Boeing documents, a lightly loaded 737-700 can take off from a runway about the length of the M. Graham Clark airport.

Parent said he had no doubts that the plane would be able to take off safely.

On Monday afternoon Southwest Airlines said the pilots of a plane had been grounded.

Airline spokeswoman Brandy King said Monday that the captain and first officer were removed from flying duties while the airline and federal aviation safety officials investigate the mistake.

King said the captain is in his 15th year flying for Southwest.

The pilots were at the controls of a Boeing 737 flying from Chicago to Branson, Mo., when they landed at a smaller nearby airport with a much shorter runway that ends at a steep embankment.

The plane is now back in service, traveling to Tulsa, Okla. for fueling where it will then return to service, Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said.

Sunday's event was the second time in less than two months that a large jet has landed at the wrong airport.

In November, a freight-carrying Boeing 747 that was supposed to deliver parts to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., landed 9 miles north at Col. James Jabara Airport. The company that operated the flight later said in a training video that the crew was skeptical about the plane's automation after the co-pilot's flight display had intermittent trouble, and the pilot chose to fly visually when he spotted the brightly lit runway at Jabara.

Last year, a cargo plane bound for MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Fla., landed without incident at the small Peter O. Knight Airport nearby. An investigation blamed confusion identifying airports in the area, and base officials introduced an updated landing procedure.

The airline announced last month that it would end service in June in Branson, Key West, Fla., and Jackson, Miss., because it can't make money in those smaller markets.

_____

Associated Press airlines reporter David Koenig contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow Us!

Share Your Photos & Video

  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Giving your college-bound kids their space

    Giving your college-bound kids their space

    Friday, August 22 2014 9:31 PM EDT2014-08-23 01:31:50 GMT
    Going off to college is an exciting time for the entire family, especially for the upcoming freshman. But with technology, parents can be in touch all the time. What's too much and what's just enough? Freshman move-in day seems to be harder on the parents than the students at Stony Brook University.
    Going off to college is an exciting time for the entire family, especially for the upcoming freshman. But with technology, parents can be in touch all the time. What's too much and what's just enough? Freshman move-in day seems to be harder on the parents than the students at Stony Brook University.
  • Navy submarine group disbands in Groton ceremony

    Navy submarine group disbands in Groton ceremony

    Friday, August 22 2014 8:36 PM EDT2014-08-23 00:36:24 GMT
    A Navy submarine group based in Groton has been formally disbanded after 49 years. A ceremony Friday aboard the attack submarine USS Missouri marked the end of Submarine Group 2.
    A Navy submarine group based in Groton has been formally disbanded after 49 years. A ceremony Friday aboard the attack submarine USS Missouri marked the end of Submarine Group 2.
  • Almost all NYC pre-K centers ready

    Almost all NYC pre-K centers ready

    Friday, August 22 2014 7:48 PM EDT2014-08-22 23:48:37 GMT
    Nearly all 1,100 facilities providing services in the city's new universal pre-kindergarten program are ready to open on time after passing health and safety inspections. City officials said Friday they expect the eight remaining pre-K schools to remedy violations by Sept. 4's opening day. If they don't, affected children will be temporarily enrolled in other facilities.
    Nearly all 1,100 facilities providing services in the city's new universal pre-kindergarten program are ready to open on time after passing health and safety inspections. City officials said Friday they expect the eight remaining pre-K schools to remedy violations by Sept. 4's opening day. If they don't, affected children will be temporarily enrolled in other facilities.
Powered by WorldNow
Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | New Terms of Service What's new | Ad Choices