Southwest Pilots Who Landed At The Wrong Airport Explain What Went Wrong

The Southwest Airlines pilots who landed a 737 jet full of passengers at the wrong Missouri airport said they didn’t realise their mistake until after they had touched down.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an update on its investigation into the January 13 incident this afternoon, including the pilots’ explanation for how they made such an unusual error.

Simply put, they were cleared to land at Branson Airport, their intended target, but saw the beacon and runway lights of M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport as they descended, and landed there instead. The airports are seven miles apart.

Here’s the full explanation, from the NTSB update:

During the interviews, the pilots told investigators that the approach had been programmed into their flight management system, but that they first saw the airport beacon and the runway lights of M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, located in Hollister, Mo., which they mistakenly identified as Branson Airport.

They cited the bright runway lights at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport and the fact that the runway was oriented in a similar direction. They also informed investigators that they flew a visual approach into what they believed to be Branson Airport and that they did not realise they were at the wrong airport until they had landed.

They confirmed that they utilized heavy braking to bring the aircraft to a stop and then advised the Branson Airport tower that they had landed at the wrong airport.

The captain has been flying for Southwest since 1999, and had never landed at Branson Airport before. The first officer, with the airline since 2001, had only landed there once.

No one was injured in the incident.

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