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Southwest Pilots Grounded After Flight Lands At Wrong Airport

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Stephanie Lucero
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Travelers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Branson got quite a surprise on Sunday night when their plane landed at the wrong airport. The carrier has called it an uneventful landing, but passengers disagree.

Flight 4013 originated in Chicago and was supposed to land in Branson. But rather, the pilot landed the plane about nine miles north, at the much smaller Taney County Airport. Travelers said that they saw no lights when they landed, and later learned that the runway was far shorter than the one in Branson.

Passengers said that they could smell brakes burning when they landed. “They said that we had stopped in like 3,300 feet, and usually I think they were saying that it should take 5,000 feet for a plane to stop,” said Shannon Spear. “We were very lucky indeed, especially considering that there was a cliff at the end of the runway.”

“There’s no space,” said passenger Mary Melchor. “And when you Googled it up, you could see the short distance of the runway.”

“Honestly, I thought the landing was a little bumpy,” added Spear. “We kind of pushed forward where we almost kind of hit our heads in the seat in front of us.”

The plane was carrying 124 passengers and five crew members. There were no reports of injuries.

After waiting about 90 minutes, travelers were escorted off of the Southwest Airlines jet and shuttled to nearby Branson. Some people then boarded another flight for the last leg of their trip to Dallas Love Field. “My understanding was they had to [dismantle] the plane, because there’s nowhere for them to circle around to pull off the runway,” said Melchor.

At least one passenger tweeted photographs of the entire ordeal.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating this incident. It is not yet known why the pilots landed at the wrong airport — skies were all clear at the time — but the captain and first officer have both been removed from flying duties until the investigation is complete.

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said that the plane is expected to leave from Taney County Airport on Monday, and that the carrier is cooperating in the investigation. “We want to thank first responders and Branson Airport administrators for joining in the work with our ground operations staff to immediately take care of our customers and their baggage,” Agnew said. Customers all received an apology, a refund and future travel credits “as a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience.”

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