A Delta Air Lines A320 carrying 130 passengers landed by mistake at the wrong airport last week, touching down at a US Air Force base where it was held on the tarmac for over two hours before being boarded by armed military and a sniffer dog.
The Delta flight landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base instead of its scheduled destination, the nearby airport in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Local media reported the two airports are about 16 kilometres apart and have runways that run in the same direction. Delta flight 2845 originated in Minneapolis. The US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.
A passenger told the Rapid City Journal she and fellow passengers waited two and a half hours on the tarmac at Ellsworth before being ordered to pull down their window shades as armed military personnel walked through the cabin with a dog.
The same mistake has happened before. In 2004, a Northwest Airlines flight to Rapid City landed at Ellsworth.
Flights do occasionally land at the wrong airport. It’s a tricky mistake for flight crew to explain to passengers – particularly if the runway is shorter than expected and the pilot has to slam on the brakes to avoid going over a cliff. Some say that is more or less what happened in March 2014, when a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago landed at Taney County Airport (which has a short runway) instead of Branson in Missouri (which has a longer runway).
In November 2013, another US plane landed at the wrong airport. A 747 Dreamlifter, a huge cargo plane and one of just four in the world, was flying from New York’s Kennedy International Airport to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas.
That plane, operated by Atlas Air, landed by mistake at Colonel James Jabara Airport, which is near McConnell but smaller. Its runway is 1859 metres long and not designed to handle B747s.
Reports said the Atlas pilot was “surprised” to be informed by an air traffic controller that he had landed at the wrong airport. “Uh, yes sir, we just landed at the other airport,” the pilot said sheepishly.
Written by Peter Needham