Retired pilot weighs in on SW flight landing at wrong airport - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Retired pilot weighs in on Southwest flight landing at wrong airport

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) -

"So we said, 'What's going on?'  He says, 'We apologize, but we landed at the wrong airport."

Oops.. that's how the pilots of this Southwest Airlines flight that was headed to Dallas from Chicago informed passengers they landed at the wrong airport.

It gives new meaning to the term, "wrong turn," but how could something like this have happened?

On Monday afternoon, the flight took off from the Missouri airport it mistakenly landed at the night before.

"It does happen and certainly happens more than you might imagine," said David Harbottle, a retired Air Force and commercial pilot.  He flew a 747 for 30 years, although never landing at the wrong airport.

It's known as pilot error.  We are humans, we make mistakes, we try out best," he said.

Flight 4301 was scheduled to arrive Sunday night at Branson Airport, instead it landed at a small airport about seven miles away.

"Two airport runways are aligned, same directions.  Let's say north, south and they might be 10 miles apart.  You're looking out the window and say, oh yeah, that must be it, maybe they're unfamiliar with it."

Passengers were caught off guard that their plane landed at the wrong airport.

"We landed.. we thought people were going to get off.. they never turned the lights off, so we said, "What's going on?"  He said, 'We apologized because we landed at the wrong airport."

The runway at the smaller airport was about 3,700 feet -- half the size of the runway it was supposed to land on. 

Harbottle says the runway length shouldn't have been a problem for the smaller 737.

"I've been retired a while, but I gotta believe if you had to land a Boeing 747, the jumbo jet, in an emergency, in 3,700 feet, yes, I think you could do it."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

"Having had the opportunity to ride in the cockpit jump seat many times with Southwest pilots, I think they're exceptional, outstanding pilots, so it's an unfortunate thing that happened.  I'm glad nobody was injured," said Harbottle.

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the airplane have brought back to Washington, D.C. for analysis. NTSB investigators will also conduct interviews with the Southwest crew this week.

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