More questions than answers after Southwest jet lands at wrong airport

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by BYRON HARRIS / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on January 13, 2014 at 10:44 PM

A Southwest Airlines jet lifted off from a Missouri airport without passengers and without incident on Monday afternoon.

It's the same aircraft that inexplicably landed at the wrong airport in Branson on Sunday evening, an airport with a much shorter runway than the one where it had been scheduled to to stop.

The two airports are six miles apart.

The two pilots in command of Flight 4013, which was traveling from Chicago Midway Airport to Dallas Love Field, have now been removed from flying duty as an investigation gets underway. Southwest says the captain on this flight is a 14-year employee of the company; the first officer has a dozen years of service.

Both are on paid leave pending an investigation.

Southwest has been flying into Branson since last March, and it's likely that the pilots could have been unfamiliar with it.

It is possible that when the plane landed Sunday night at little after six o'clock, the pilot made a visual, not an instrument approach. The pilot simply saw the runway at M. Graham Clark Airport and touched down, thinking it was Branson Airport.

It's probable that the pilot wasn't talking to the tower at the airport where he landed; and probable that there had been no communication with the airport where the Boeing 737 was scheduled to land.

The key may be whether the cockpit crew was using the airport's localizer, which helps a pilot line up on the runway's center line.

"The pilot very basically made the wrong decision," said aviation expert Jay Miller. "This happened at sunset, and all he had to look at were just two parallel sets of lights."

Southwest has not done any interviews about the incident. The Dallas-based airline says it is investigating the incident, along with the National Transportation Safety Board.

"We continue to support the NTSB in their investigation to uncover the circumstances wjhich led the pilot in command of Flight 4013 from Chicago Midway to land at PLK [Clark Airport], six nautical miles from the Branson Airport we serve," the airline said in a written statement issued Monday afternoon.

Southwest said it has reached out to each passenger to apologize, refund their tickets, and provide a future travel credit "as a gesture of goodwill."

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