Passenger and cargo planes’ wrong landings more common than previously thought

BY Associated Press  February 10, 2014 at 11:12 AM EST
Photo by Flickr user ATOMIC Hot Links

Photo by Flickr user ATOMIC Hot Links

U.S. commercial air carriers have landed or started to land at the wrong airports at least 150 times since the early 1990s, according to a search by The Associated Press of government safety databases and media reports. And the problem isn’t limited to airlines — military pilots have made similar blunders.

Here’s a sample of wrong airport landings :

  • January: A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 with 124 passengers aboard lands at a small public airport in Hollister, Mo. The runway is half the length of the one that the flight had been cleared to land on at a larger airport in nearby Branson. Braking hard, pilots are able to stop the plane just short of a ravine. Pilots tell investigators they confused the smaller airport’s bright runway lights for the Branson airport.
  • November 2013: A Boeing 747 freighter operated by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings lands at a small air field with a short runway near Wichita, Kan., instead of McConnell Air Force Base 9 miles away. There are three airports in the area with runways similarly aligned.
  • August 2012: United Express Flight 4049 operated by Silver Airways en route from Morgantown, W.Va., to Clarksburg, W.Va., lands at a small airport in Fairmont, W.Va., about 10 miles from the flight’s intended destination. Eleven passengers and three crew members are on board.
  • July 2012: A military C-17 Globemaster III en route from Rome, Italy, to Tampa, Fla., with the head of the U.S. Central Command on board lands at the small Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa instead of its intended destination, nearby MacDill Air Force Base. Both airports have runways with the number 22 on them to indicate the compass heading, but Knight Airport’s runways are less than a third the length of MacDill’s runway.
  • September 2011: A Continental Airlines flight from Houston to Lake Charles, La., lands at a Southland Executive Airport in Sulphur, La., a small air field 8 miles away that’s popular with crop dusters and fish spotters. It was the third time a Continental flight from Houston to Lake Charles has mistakenly landed at Southland.
  • October 2004: The captain of a Boeing 757 reports landing at a wrong airport about 6 miles from the airliner’s intended destination. Faced with testy passengers, the captain compounds the error by taking off again without waiting to be released. After the plane lands at the original destination, the captain and first officer are relieved of duty. The airports and the airline aren’t identified.
  • June 2004: A Northwest Airlines Flight 1152 from Minneapolis is given clearance to land at Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota but mistakenly lands at Ellsworth Air Force Base nearby. The plane, with 117 passengers and five crew members, remains at Ellsworth for more than three hours during the daylight incident.
  • January 2004: A US Airways commuter flight operated by Shuttle America lands at Mid-State Regional Airport near Philipsburg, Pa., instead of University Park Airport outside State College, Pa. The airports are about 20 miles apart.
  • January 2003: A charter flight carrying the University of Notre Dame basketball team returning to Indiana from a game in Providence, R.I., lands at Elkhart Municipal Airport instead of South Bend Regional Airport. The two airports are about 12 miles apart. Towers at both airports were closed at the time.
  • May 1997: A Continental Airlines Boeing 737 carrying 54 passengers from Houston to Corpus Christi, Texas, mistakenly lands at a nearly abandoned World War II-era air field.
  • March 1997: A charter flight carrying the University of Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team home from a losing game in New York lands at the wrong Arkansas airport. The 137 players, cheerleaders, boosters, members of the school band and alumni are loaded onto buses for the final 12 miles from Springdale to Fayetteville.
  • September 1995: A Northwest Airlines flight with 241 passengers en route from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany, misses its destination by more than 200 miles, landing instead in Brussels, Belgium. The captain says he was misdirected by European air traffic controllers who incorrectly entered the flight plan into their computers.