Welcome to Branson, Missouri. Well, maybe not.
A Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago’s Midway Airport was scheduled to land at Branson Airport in southwest Missouri on Sunday night. Instead, the Boeing 737-700 touched down at Taney County airport — about 7 miles away, and with a runway significantly shorter.
The Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation on the mix-up, as has the National Transportation Safety Board. But passengers were relieved the error didn’t lead to something more serious.
The Taney County airport doesn’t normally handle big jets. Its runway is about half the length of the Branson airport — 3,738 feet, compared with 7,140 feet.
That required the pilot to do a lot of heavy braking as soon as the Boeing 737-700 touched down.
Without the firm foot on the brakes, the plane could have overshot the end of the runway, tumbled down an embankment and onto U.S. Highway 65.
“Really happy (the) pilot applied brakes the way he did,” said Scott Schieffer, one of 124 passengers aboard Flight 4013. “Who knows what would have happened?”
The plane stopped about 300 feet from the end of the runway, said Jeff Bourk, the executive director at Branson airport.
An announcement, an apology
When the flight landed, Schieffer recalled the pilot coming on the intercom and saying, “Welcome to Branson.”
A few minutes later, he apologized.
“I’m sorry, ladies and gentleman. We have landed at the wrong airport,” the pilot said, according to Schieffer.
Kevin Riley, who lives near the airport, said he was sitting in his living room when he heard the flight land.
“I thought it was a military plane because it’s so loud,” he said. “This airport takes small planes … nothing to the level or volume of that plane.”
Another area resident, Jeffrey Engel, said it surprised him too.
“We’re used to hearing Cessnas land and take off,” he said. “It’s a small airport.”
The question why
The passengers were bused from the Taney airport to the Branson airport.
Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for the airline, said Sunday night that he didn’t yet have enough information to say why the plane landed at the wrong location.
“No timeline on flying out the aircraft from that other airport. It could happen as early as (Monday) morning,” he said.
CNN first learned of the landing error from tweets from the region.
Sunday night’s incident brought to mind another landing at a wrong airport two months earlier.
In November, a mammoth cargo plane landed at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas — one that typically does not accommodate such beasts and with a runway half a mile shorter than it usually uses.
The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter was bound for McConnell Air Force Base from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. But instead of landing at the military airport on Wichita’s southeast side, it landed at the much smaller, general aviation Col. James Jabara Airport on the northeast side.
In August 2012, a regional commuter plane landed at the wrong West Virginia airport.
United Express Flight 4049 operated by Silver Airways was supposed to fly from Morgantown to Clarksburg but landed instead at Fairmont Municipal Airport about 10 miles away.