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Southwest Wrong-Airport Pilot Surprised Air Controllers

A Southwest Airlines Co. pilot told an air traffic controller, “I assume I’m not at your airport” after landing about seven miles away from his intended destination in Branson, Missouri.

The Branson controller, who wasn’t aware the plane had touched down, then called regional traffic managers in Springfield, Missouri, and asked if they had seen Flight 4013 land, saying the pilot believed he was at the wrong airport, according to a recording of the conversation released by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration today.

“Are you kidding me?” a Springfield controller responded.

The transcripts convey the sense of bewilderment from both the pilot and controllers about the Jan. 12 incident. Landing at night using visual cues and not instruments, the pilot had to slam on the brakes to stop the Boeing Co. 737 at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport in Branson, whose runway is only about half as long as the strip at the main Branson airfield.

The pilots remain on paid leave pending the outcome of investigations by U.S. regulators and the Dallas-based carrier. Flight 4013 from Chicago carried 124 passengers and five crew members.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation into the landing, the second such incident involving a U.S. commercial plane in two months. Release of the recording is part of that inquiry, said Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest, who declined to comment further.

Missing Cues

The errant landings and the July 6 crash of an Asiana Airlines Inc. plane in San Francisco, raised regulators’ concerns that pilots were missing obvious visual and instrument cues while failing to check each other’s work.

While the pilots programmed Branson Airport into their flight management computers, they saw a beacon at Clark and headed for it, the NTSB said several days after the incident. The captain, who had never flown there, didn’t realize his mistake until the plane was on the ground, the agency said.

The Branson controller earlier had cleared the plane to land using a visual approach. While navigation equipment would have shown the pilots the correct location of the airport, crews often fly the final few miles to a runway manually.

In November, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. pilots mistakenly landed their modified Boeing Co. 747-400 jumbo jet freighter at a municipal airport nine miles from their destination of McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas.

In the Asiana crash, which killed three, pilots didn’t notice that the plane was flying too slow until seconds before it struck a seawall short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport, according to NTSB records.

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