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Recordings Show Confusion as Southwest Jet Lands at Wrong Airport

"I assume I'm not at your airport?" pilot asks controller

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Southwest Airlines pilot, who landed at the wrong Missouri airport in January, didn’t realize the mistake until he landed the plane and communicated with air traffic control, according to radio transmissions obtained by NBC 5. (Published Friday, Mar 21, 2014)

    A Southwest Airlines pilot, who landed at the wrong Missouri airport in January, didn’t realize the mistake until he landed the plane and communicated with air traffic control, according to radio transmissions obtained by NBC 5.

    Southwest Airlines flight 4013 was traveling from Chicago Midway International Airport to Branson, Mo., and planned to fly on to Dallas Love Field.

    Instead, the plane landed at a much smaller airport about six miles from Branson – on a runway about half the size as Branson’s.

    The radio tapes sound routine as the jet approached Branson, a resort town in the Ozarks.

    “Southwest 4013, clear to land, runway 14,” the pilot calmly repeated to the controller in the Branson tower.

    The next transmissions captured the confusion right after the plane landed at Clark Airport in nearby Hollister.

    “I assume I’m not at your airport?” the pilot asked the controller.

    “Southwest 4013, have you landed?” the controller responded.

    The pilot paused and answered, "Yeah."

    NBC 5 requested the Jan. 13 radio recordings under the federal open records law. The Federal Aviation Administration released them on Friday.

    No one was injured, but passengers reported the plane came to a quick stop and came close to going off the end of the runway -- and a cliff.

    "They came on and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we've landed at the wrong airport,’” Dallas attorney Scott Schieffer said afterwards. "We smelled burned rubber -- a very distinct smell. And everybody was like, 'Wow.That was a pretty intense landing.'"

    Within minutes, the recordings show, the controller in the Branson tower called a colleague at Springfield regional approach.

    "Say that again,” the Springfield controller said.

    "He says he landed at the wrong airport,” the Branson controller said.

    “Are you kidding?” the regional controller asked.

    “Yeah -- No I’m not,” he answered.

    Southwest Airlines arranged for a bus to take the passengers to Branson and brought in another plane to fly them to Dallas.

    At the time, the airline acknowledged the mistake but described it as an "uneventful" landing.

    "That's absolutely not true,” Schieffer said. “I've flown hundreds of thousands of miles. That was an eventful landing … It felt like a surreal moment. I can't believe it was that close."

    The pilots told investigators from  the National Transportation Safety Board that they had Branson programmed into the plane’s computer but made a visual landing at what they believed was the correct airport, according to an NTSB report.

    The pilots also noted the smaller airport had bright lights and the runway was oriented in a similar direction, the NTSB said.

    FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the investigation continues.

    In a short statement, Southwest Airlines said on Friday the pilots remain on paid leave.

    The names of the captain and first officer have not been released.