Southwest pilots that landed jet at wrong airport removed from active duty

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by MARIE SAAVEDRA

Bio | Email | Follow: @MSaavedraTV

WFAA

Posted on January 12, 2014 at 10:05 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 13 at 3:49 PM

Wrong airport

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BRANSON, Mo. — The pilots of a Southwest Airlines jet that landed at the wrong airport Sunday evening in Branson have been removed from active flying as an investigation is underway.

Flight 4013 took off from Chicago Midway Airport shortly before 5 p.m. and was scheduled to stop at Branson Airport near the Missouri resort town on its journey to Dallas.

The Boeing 737 instead touched down at M. Graham Clark Airport near downtown Branson, about six miles north of Branson Airport, and where the runway is about half the length of the one at Branson Airport.

While passengers were taken off the plane and transferred to another flight, the plane stayed at the airport overnight.

Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for the central region of the Federal Aviation Agency, says the FAA is investigating the incident.

"We are cooperating with authorities in this investigation," read a statement released by Southwest Airlines Monday morning. "We want to thank first responders and Branson Airport administrators for joining in the work with our ground operations staff to immediately take care of our customers and their baggage last night."

The National Transportation Safety Board obtained flight data and cockpit voice recordings from the flight. The agency says the material will be sent to Washington, D.C. for analysis. Investigators will also interview the crew, according to a statement from the NTSB.

Jason Blevins, who lives near Clark Airport, spotted the Southwest jet as it approached Sunday night.

"It was so low you could see inside the cabin, and you could see individuals in the cabin," he said. "I thought, 'Wow, that's really, really awkward... he was probably about 150 feet above the trees."

Dallas attorney Scott Schieffer was a passenger aboard Flight 4013.

"We could smell the burnt rubber from the flight," he told News 8 by phone. "The landing was really abrupt, and the pilot applied the brakes really strongly. You could hear it, and you could certainly feel it... you lunged forward in your seat and thankfully, you had your seatbelt on."

Schieffer said after landing, a crew member came on the intercom and said, "Welcome to Branson." A brief time later, there was another announcement: They were actually at the wrong Branson airport.

After exiting the jet, Schieffer realized the plane landed at the end of the runway, just a few hundred feet from where it ends at a steep cliff. The website for M. Graham Clark Airport says its longest runway is 3,738 feet. Branson Airport's website says its runway is 7,140 feet long.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said there were 124 passengers and five crew members on the flight. He characterized the landing as "uneventful."

Passengers were taken by bus to the primary Branson airport to continue their journeys. Flight 4013 was originally scheduled to arrive at Dallas Love Field at 7:05 p.m. Sunday, the latest information was that passengers would get to Dallas shortly before midnight.

Southwest Airlines issued refunds and travel credits to passengers.

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

In November, a 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. That plane was flown by a two-person crew and had no passengers.

WFAA's Marcus Moore and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

E-mail msaavedra@wfaa.com

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