Air traffic controller after wrong airport landing: ‘Are you kidding?’

Wikimedia Commons

An air traffic controller could barely believe his ears when a pilot landed at the wrong airport in January, according to audio released this week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The Southwest Airlines flight, which was flying from Chicago's Midway Airport, was supposed to arrive in Branson, Mo. But instead, it touched down at the nearby Taney County, Mo., airport.

After communicating with the Branson flight tower during the erroneous landing, the Southwest pilot appears to quickly realize his mistake.

“I assume I’m not at your airport,” the pilot can be heard saying on the FAA’s tapes.

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An air traffic controller at the Branson airport responds on the recording by asking the whereabouts of the plane after failing to see it on the runway.

“Southwest 4013, have you landed?” the air traffic controller asks the pilot. The controller then asks a co-worker for confirmation.

“Did you watch Southwest land,” the first controller said. “He said he landed at the wrong airport.”

The second controller responded, “Are you kidding?”

Southwest said in January that it suspended the pilots who were involved in the wrong airport landing, pending investigations by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The release of the audio comes as the NTSB issued a safety alert about wrong airport landings to pilots on Wednesday.

The NTSB alert cited the Southwest Airlines’ landing and another incident involving a cargo plane that landed on a runway that was too short in November 2013.

“Wrong airport landings present serious safety hazards, including the risk of overrun because a misidentified runway may not be long enough to accommodate the landing airplane, and the risk of collision with other aircraft due to an unexpected incursion into the runway environment,” the NTSB said in its alert.

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said it was important for pilots to stay focused as they are landing commercial and cargo airplanes.

"All of us have experienced a loss of situational awareness at some time, but the consequences for pilots mistaking a nearby airport for the intended one, or landing on the wrong runway or a taxiway, can have catastrophic consequences, which is why it's so important to maintain a vigilant approach to following procedures throughout every flight," Hersman said in a statement.

The full FAA audio of the Southwest Airlines wrong airport landing can be heard here.

The NTSB’s safety alert about wrong airport landings can be read here.