The pilot and his partner say they didn't know that their Boeing 737 from Chicago Midway had landed at the wrong airport in Branson, Missouri until after they were on ground. In an interim investigative report, NTSB officials say they were given some explanations from the flight crew to back that up.
"I can't just start moving the airport around or trying to reposition or anything like that," said the captain of Southwest flight 4013 with a planeload of passengers from Chicago just after he realized they were at the wrong airport.
Instead of the main airport in Branson, they had put down at the county airport 15 miles away. A statement from the NTSB Friday offers some preliminary reasons for the wrong airport landing:
-it was the captain's first flight to Branson, Missouri
-and the co-pilot's first night flight to Branson
-the Southwest crew told authorities that they followed "bright runway lights" from the wrong airport.
-and the crew noted that both airports are oriented in the same direction.
Although no one was hurt in the mishap, it was a close call-the biggest aircraft ever to land at county airport had to do some heavy braking to avoid going over a cliff at the end of the runway. After the still unnamed captain realized he had made a terrible mistake, he told 124 passengers the same thing that he has told federal authorities.
"People know we are here and we will be taking care of you just as soon as we can. Thanks again for your patience and again I apologize."
As we reported a few days ago, there was a third person in the cockpit during this blunder - a Southwest dispatcher flying on an employee pass. There has been speculation that the flight deck guest perhaps had distracted the pilot and co-pilot. Federal investigators say they have questioned that third person as well. But the NTSB hasn't made any statements about whether distracted flying was a contributing factor.