Whoops

Lost in Branson: A Southwest Flight Causes Big Confusion at the Wrong Airport


A crew inspects Southwest Airlines Flight 4013 at the M. Graham Clark Airport on Jan. 13

Photograph by Valerie Mosley/The Springfield News-Leader via AP Photo

A crew inspects Southwest Airlines Flight 4013 at the M. Graham Clark Airport on Jan. 13

A Southwest Airlines (LUV) crew that landed at the wrong airport in Branson, Mo., contacted a tower across town after the plane landed, curious to know where they were. “I assume I’m not at your airport?” a pilot on Flight 4013 asked a controller in the tower at Branson Airport, which is about seven miles southeast of the M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, at which the plane found itself on Jan. 12.

“Southwest 4013, um, have you landed?” the tower controller replied, according to a recording the Federal Aviation Administration released today. The controller then called a fellow FAA controller in Springfield—the regional radar approach facility that monitors air traffic in the region above 2,000 feet—to clarify what had happened to the flight cleared to land in Branson. Springfield is about 45 miles north of Branson.

“Did you watch Southwest, uh, land?” the Branson controller asked his counterpart, in a conversation that’s sure to induce cringes among professional pilots.

“Yeah.”

“O.K.”

“Why?”

“Did you see him come here?”

“Say that again?”

“He said he landed at the wrong airport.”

“Are you kidding?”

“No, I’m not.”

“No, he dropped off (radar) about over Point Lookout.” (This is an unincorporated community near Branson in Taney County.)

“I think that’s where he landed. I’ll call you back.”

Passengers aboard the Boeing 737 said that pilots had to brake more severely than usual because of the airport’s 3,738-foot runway. (The main Branson airport has a strip that is 7,140 feet long.) No one was injured in the incident; the passengers were bused to the proper airport and the plane continued on to Dallas a day later. The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the incident, and Southwest has placed both the captain and first officer on paid leave pending the findings.

The 77-minute flight from Chicago had been uneventful until then, with the Southwest crew cleared for a visual approach to Branson’s Runway 14 and advised to keep an eye peeled for an air ambulance helicopter flying at 2,000 feet.

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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