Southwest Pilots Were Visual To Wrong Airport

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The NTSB says the pilots of a Southwest flight that landed at the wrong airport last week simply followed the wrong bright lights after opting for a visual approach to what they thought was Branson Airport in Missouri. According to the board's preliminary report, the crew was told by the Branson tower that they were 15 miles from the airport and cleared for a visual approach for Runway 14. The welcoming lights of Runway 12 at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, in Hollister, Mo., about six miles north of Branson, caught their eye and they set up for an initially uneventful landing on the 3748-foot runway. "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 NTSB said in its initial report released Friday.

The captain of the flight had never been into Branson and the FO had only flown there once in daylight. Both are experienced Southwest pilots and told the NTSB the flight management system was properly programmed. As of Monday they were suspended but their final fate has not been released. There were 124 passengers aboard and Branson was an interim stop with Dallas as the final destination. Buses took the passengers and their bags to Branson where another Southwest plane arrived to pick up the Dallas-bound passengers a few hours later. The empty 737 took off from the other airport on Monday.