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Updated: Mon, 13 Jan 2014 13:39:50 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Plane lands at wrong airport with much shorter runway



This frame grab provided by KSPR-TV shows a Southwest Airlines flight that was scheduled to arrive Sunday Jan. 12, 2014, at Branson Airport in southwest Missouri instead landed at an airport 7 miles north � with a runway about half the size of the intended destination. (© AP Photo/KSPR-TV)

This frame grab provided by KSPR-TV shows a Southwest Airlines flight that was scheduled to arrive Sunday Jan. 12, 2014, at Branson Airport in southwest Missouri instead landed at an airport 7 miles north � with a runway about half the size of the intended destination. (AP Photo/KSPR-TV) KSPR-TV/Associated Press

Federal officials are investigating why a Southwest Airlines flight that was supposed to land at Branson Airport in southwest Missouri, instead landed at another airport 11 kilometres away that only had about half as much runway.

Southwest Airlines Flight 4013, carrying 124 passengers and five crew members, was scheduled to go from Chicago's Midway International Airport to Branson Airport, airline spokesman Brad Hawkins said Sunday in a statement. But the Boeing 737-700 landed at Taney County Airport, which is also known as M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport.

"The landing was uneventful, and all customers and crew are safe," Hawkins said.

Hawkins did not have information on why the plane went to the wrong airport. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro says the agency is investigating the incident.

It's the second time in less than two months that a large jet has landed at the wrong airport.

In November, a Boeing 747 that was supposed to deliver parts to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., landed 15 kilometres north at Col. James Jabara Airport. That plane was flown by a two-person crew and had no passengers.

Last year, a cargo plane bound for MacDill Air Force base in Florida landed without incident at a smaller airport nearby. An investigation blamed confusion identifying airports in the area.

Almost a decade ago, a Northwest Airlines plane bound for Rapid City, South Dakota, with 117 passengers landed instead at nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base. As the plane descended through clouds, one of the pilots reported, the crew saw a runway in front of them and mistakenly thought it was the right one.

Runway about half as long

The website for M. Graham Clark Airport says its longest runway is 1.14 km. Branson Airport's website says its runway is 2.18 km.

"As soon as we touched down, the pilot applied the brake very hard and very forcibly," said passenger Scott Schieffer. "I thought, 'Well, this is a very short runway and this must be how he has to land.' I was wearing a seatbelt, but I was lurched forward because of the heavy pressure of the brake. You could smell burnt rubber, a very distinct smell of burnt rubber as we were stopping."

Once he got off the plane, someone pointed to the edge of the runway, maybe 30 metres away.

"It was surreal when I realized we could have been in real danger and instead of an inconvenience, it could have been a real tragedy," Schieffer said.

Flight tracking website Flightaware.com said the Southwest flight landed at 6:11 p.m. local time Sunday. It was partly cloudy and 10 C in Branson at that time.

"Our ground crew from the Branson airport arrived at the airport to take care of our customers and their baggage," Hawkins said.

Flight 4013 had been scheduled to go from Branson to Dallas' Love Field. Hawkins said a plane was flown in specifically to Branson Airport around 10 p.m. to take the passengers and crew to Dallas, which flightaware.com showed landed at 11:42 p.m.

Hawkins told The Associated Press the aircraft at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport will be able to take off on the smaller runway, and Southwest expects to fly it out "as early as [Monday] morning."

The Taney County Sheriff's Office referred all calls to M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport. Messages left for comment from M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport were not immediately returned.

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