Southwest 4013 back in the air after a 20 hour turnaround at Taney County Airport in Missouri where it mistakenly landed on Sunday evening. The flight was supposed to land at the much larger Branson Airport, over seven miles away. The runway of Taney County Airport is only 3,738 feet compared to the Branson runway which is 7,140 feet, which forced the pilots to sharply apply the brakes upon landing in order to stop in the unexpectedly short distance. The pilots successfully avoided tumbling off the end of the runway and onto U.S. Highway 65. With only 500 feet to spare, the Boeing 737 was stopped safely, with no damage or injuries to the 124 passengers and crew.
Southwest and Boeing have launched investigations into the incident, there is concern that the flight computer may have malfunctioned, or that it was not programmed properly. Flight routes are programmed into the planes computer at the beginning of the flight, and the computer set reminders and alarms to keep the pilots alert and aware of the planes position. When Flight 4013 began its early descent woefully off course, the system should have alerted the pilots of their error. The plane itself was thoroughly inspected at Taney County Airport and clear as mechanically sound, and now that they have Southwest 4013 back in the air, officials have a lot of questions. Southwest 4013 is bound for Tulsa Oklahoma to refuel, the pilot and co-pilot are on paid leave for the duration of the investigations.
The captain of the plane has worked for Southwest airlines for fifteen years, and the first officer had been there for twelve. Both men were experienced with the area, and the weather was only slightly cloudy with clear visibility at the time of the landing. Concern that the equipment malfunctioned is high, as well as curiosity that neither man realized they were landing in the wrong place. Although these events are not common occurrences, this is the second time in two months a plane has landed at the wrong airport. In November a 747 even larger than Flight 4013 mistakenly landed in Kansas at an airport with a runway 3,000 feet shorter than it needed to take off again. It was coaxed back into the air and successfully landed at nearby McConnell Air Force Base where it had been originally sent. Although this problem was overcome to get Southwest 4013 back in the air, it is partly responsible for the long turnaround.
Passengers were left stuck in the plane on the runway for over two hours until stairs could be brought in from Branson airport to the get them off the plane. The Taney County Airport was not designed for planes the size of a 737 and did not have stairs big enough on hand. Passengers spent the wait eating peanuts and drinking soda and were then bussed to Branson Airport with their luggage. Southwest refunded the ticket prices of all the passengers and offer travel vouchers, and offers sincere apologies.
By Daniel O’Brien