View Full Version : Plane lands at Air Force base by mistake

20th Jun 2004, 17:35
A simple mistake and could have been sorted quickly but not in america....

June 20, 2004 | ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- A Northwest Airlines flight that was headed to Rapid City, S.D., landed a few miles off course at Ellsworth Air Force Base, and passengers had to wait in the plane for more than three hours while their crew was interrogated.

Passengers on Northwest Flight 1152, an Airbus A-319 from St. Paul, expected to be welcomed to Rapid City Regional Airport on Saturday, but after about five minutes they were told to close their window shades and not look out, said passenger Robert Morrell.

"He (the pilot) hemmed and he hawed and he said 'We have landed at an Air Force base a few miles from the Rapid City airport and now we are going to figure out how we're going to get from here to there,"' Morrell told the St. Paul Pioneer Press by cell phone during the delay Saturday.

Eventually, the captain and first officer were replaced by a different Northwest crew for the short hop to the right airport.
Northwest confirmed that the crew made an "unscheduled landing."

"The situation is under review and we have nothing further to add," said Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch. He would not identify the cockpit crew, or say if the pilot made an error.

Ellsworth controls all air space 40 miles around the base and clears landings at both the civilian airport and the base.

The city's airport runway is "just over the hill" from Ellsworth, and the Northwest crew had to descend through a layer of clouds, said a base spokeswoman, Lt. Christine Millette.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

20th Jun 2004, 17:44
Thats a pretty serious error, with serval SOPs probably not complied with.

Why should it be sorted quickly? That crew needs training. You would have to get another one.

Maybe in your country safety isn't taken quite as seriously and known deficiencies are allowed to continue till they kill someone. Is that your position?

Nice dig at America though.


20th Jun 2004, 18:01
Well safety where i am is pretty cracked up and yes there were failures on behalf of the crew no denying that. However a little jeep with a 'follow me' sign could have come out and displayed a freq so the crew could tune in to the twr.
TWR: ' Youve F:mad: ed up and landed at the wrong airfield, do you have enough fuel for a take off and a 3 min flt or shall i send a truck.
CREW: Ah *****.... sorry

Crew takes off red faced and pax dont need to sit in a plane for 3 hrs to interrogate a stuff up.

I just think the military went overboard. Its a dig at all military's actually.

20th Jun 2004, 18:10
If you're going to do visuals into airports best be sure you've POSITIVELY identified the field you're going into. As for the reception committee, I guess that's bound to happen considering:

1. Military air base

2. Civil airliner

3. Unannounced arrival

4. 911

20th Jun 2004, 18:15
Thought you good ol' boys were the best in the world?


20th Jun 2004, 18:20
and don't look out for Gas Holders when coming into LHR or you might end up in RAF Northolt (and it did happen) :{ :{ :{

ps. it was a long time ago and I think they may have removed the offending Gas Holder in the meantime :p

20th Jun 2004, 18:23
It can happen to anyone. Around CYUL, a certain airline used to be known as Been Over At Cartierville. :O

20th Jun 2004, 18:39
I wouldn't categorize 6NM as 'just over the hill'. Wot, no DME ?

Okay so the runways are almost aligned, but the rest of the layouts don't match at all.

Rapid City:

Awww... KRAP. And I assume they didn't depart St. Paul as recounted by the redoubtable journo, otherwise that would have been a definite first - from the wrong place to the wrong place.

20th Jun 2004, 21:50
Back in 95 or 96..wasn't it a Northwest DC-10 who landed in Brussels instead of Frankfurt?!!

galaxy flyer
21st Jun 2004, 00:01

While landing at the "incorrect" may, in the eyes of the FAA, be a innocent mistake that wasn't the result of a violation of an FAR; departing without the dispatcher's concurrence IS a violation. Pilots who have tried to "correct" the mistake with a rapid departure to the right place have been violated for the infraction--careless and reckless in the FARs.

Military bases are "over the top" with security and in this case I bet they were pretty nasty.

Lesson Learned: Make damn sure of the airport before taking the visual. Yes, it was NWA that landed at BRU instead of FRA and the pax found out FIRST when the automated pax announcement was made based on the lat/long position.


21st Jun 2004, 01:19
passengers had to wait in the plane for more than three hours while their crew was interrogated.
Presumably the photos will appear before too long....

21st Jun 2004, 01:24
When I was on the B707 we had an item on the checklist which read "Airfield and Runway....Identified and Crosschecked" which meant the airport and landing runway had to identified either by radio aids (ILS) etc and/or "visual" confirmation - having said that this item did not stop the odd incident!

Ignition Override
21st Jun 2004, 01:36
We are only required to announce on-course indications during an instrument approach, or if the ATIS says "ILS approaches in progress (i.e.) to runways 18R and L".

How many of these very embarassing incidents are to happen until ALL US airlines require the non-flying pilot to state "Loc active....glideslope active" or "course active" (with a VOR-so watch out even more...), even during rushed visual approaches? :(.

We are required to use a navaid as a back-up, but the non-flying pilot is not required to say anything about the indications. Many of these approaches take place with several distractions, or with a flying pilot who waits until fairly close to the runway to call "gear down...flaps forty, landing checklist". Almost like playing a game of chicken, leaving the other pilot guessing.......Never mind verifying that tower has given us a landing clearance.

Why did Rapid City Tower give the landing clearance, or was tower already closed (CTAF freq.), as was probably the case here?

Incidentally, just back from southern England last night-beautiful country with courteous drivers.

21st Jun 2004, 02:01
The story just got posted on Matt Drudge's web-site........

http://www.drudgereport.com/ (http://wcco.com/localnews/local_story_172180536.html)

21st Jun 2004, 02:41
>>Yes, it was NWA that landed at BRU instead of FRA and the pax found out FIRST when the automated pax announcement was made based on the lat/long position.<<

Actually, I believe the cabin saw the nav progress on the screens in back but the cabin crew thought that possibly a hijack or other emergency had occured and did not convey their concern over the new destination until after landing. At least that was their story at the hearing and they're sticking to it...

That flight was NW52, a DC-10-40 from DTW back in 1995.

Did the DC-10 even have automated PA's?

21st Jun 2004, 03:12
Just to tie up a couple of loose ends...

1. This flight was scheduled to arrive a little after noon, local time. KRAP tower is advertised as open at this time, so I'll be curious to know whether anyone in the tower attempted to intervene.

2. Ah, the enlightened press... Ellsworth controls all air space 40 miles around the base and clears landings at both the civilian airport and the base. Well... no. Ellsworth approach provides radar service, but does not clear anyone to land at KRAP.

3. Ellsworth is home to the 28th Bomb Wing which fly B1s. This is one of those places you don't want to land at inadvertently. If you're going to make this kind of mistake, do it at a base that has transport aircraft lined up on the flightline. Still not a GREAT idea, but having been assigned to both types of bases back in the old days, the mea culpas tend to have a better chance at the transport bases...

4. Here's the proximity picutre:


Edited to apologize for not leaving a little more of the chart intact on the east side when I cropped it... I cut off "Beefy" intersection. One of the only things missing in my otherwise full life is the opportunity to report beefy... :D

Viscount Sussex
21st Jun 2004, 03:40
I have been told that there are two types of pilots: "Those that have landed with the wheels up and those that are about to".
Insteresting thought...and there by the grace of GOD...

21st Jun 2004, 04:15
Aircraft lands at Civil Airfield by Mistake

Extract from memoirs!!

It was not uncommon for pilots to mistake Blackbushe, the civil airfield 10 miles from Farnborough, for home base. I found myself doing an initial approach on Blackbushe one misty afternoon. I soon recognised my error as the layout of the airfield became clear. Not so with the Egyptian, Fickery Zarr, He followed through to land a Meteor and when he went to turn off the runway on to a taxiway with which he was familiar at Farnborough, the resultant radio chatter became really hilarious.

It was normal practice under these circumstances for Farnborough to retain control over the offending pilot whilst liaising with Blackbushe over a telephone tie-line. So those of us on the same frequency became party to a fascinating sequence of instructions and responses.

Blackbushe was base to a fleet of civil Ambassador type aircraft and it became obvious that one of these was preparing for take off at the holding point when Farnborough said to Fickery " Take the next runway exit left and then the taxiway back to the holding point." Fickery said " I do not understand where I am and what I should do. I have some fuel left and can fly again for 20 minutes." Farnborough came back with "Roger, taxi straight ahead to the Ambassador." Fickery did not respond so Farnborough repeated the instruction. Fickery then came back in a faltering voice with "Please, please, I do not er er I do not wish to see the Ambassador today."

One of the tutors on the radio broke in with " Fickery you idiot, he means the Ambassador aircraft waiting for take off at the holding point." Meanwhile the rest of us had convulsions of laughter at the expense of the hapless and confused Egyptian.

We Australians were sometimes confused by different meanings given to words. The RAE was experimenting with a rapidly configurable inflatable aircraft capable of being carried around on a light road vehicle. The wings were inflatable and normally folded into a container. The engine was fitted with a small air compressor which inflated the wings and fuselage to maintain form and strength of its delta shape. Some intrepid test pilot would occasionally take it for a flight. The craft was always referred to by the British as the Durex Delta. This to us conceptualised a delta aircraft held together by Durex brand transparent sticky tape as marketed in Australia at the time. But the British did not have Durex sticky tape. Their Durex was a brand of condom. In mixed company in the Mess one weekend I casually remarked that I had seen the Durex Delta flying again. Kicks to the shins under the table prompted me to later determine my eror.

21st Jun 2004, 04:46
During command training on the 'ole B707 over thirty years ago was advised by an old PanAmerican check pilot..."generally speaking, the proper runway lies at the end of the selected instrument approach, but with a visual, anything can happen, and sometimes does..."

Now, lets face facts here.
These guys screwed up big time, and they have positively no excuse.

21st Jun 2004, 06:36
411A, I liked your Pan Am anecdote, (never a truer word was spoken), but no post from you containing the oh so predictable “they screwed up” until page 2? You’re slipping, old digger… could it be in your old age?

21st Jun 2004, 07:03
Well, I certainly gave Haverfordwest aerodrome the benefit of a Hunter bluenote one day.... Called 'Right Initial' to Brawdy and set up for the usual 420 KIAS, 1000 ft join - then realised my error, tweaked back on the control column and just avoided their ATZ! Funny thing was it was the clearest day for months and no-one ever complained.

Then there was the incident in 1974 when a Gnat student was flying a PAR approach on an actual diversion to Shawbury. All was going fine until the instructor took control - and landed at Sleap.......

Countless approaches (and the odd landing) made at Dishforth instead of Leeming.

A VC10 pilot who made an interesting approach on Milltown instead of Kinloss - and then on the way back did the same thing at Fairford instead of Brize Norton!

Perhaps the best was the German who presented the RAF with its first Focke Wulf Fw 190 having mistaken the Bristol Channel for the English Channel - and only realised the mistake when, after chewing out an airman for failing to salute, the pilot was rather surprised to find himself looking down the barrel of a service revolver!

But none of these was by a commercial air transport aircraft flown by a professional airline crew!

21st Jun 2004, 07:15
yanks do like their visual approaches don't they !

arn't the hills on the wrong side of the field ?? - but as said before, 'there but for the grace of god' - how many sectors/hours had these blokes done ??

21st Jun 2004, 07:23
Nothing wrong with a visual approach per se - and don't forget that the ILS protected area may be infringed in the US by traffic waiting to depart if the weather is better than 2 miles and 800 ft. So flying an auto-everything instrument approach when the weather is good enough not to need a full ILS could have its own risks......

Edited to add - see item 2.1 in www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/FOD199802.PDF for further info on this.

21st Jun 2004, 08:49
So one to add to an increasingly long list (http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=133849)?

21st Jun 2004, 13:25

One might consider that the NW crew was just slightly fatigued, so made a stupid mistake.
Now it would seem to me that if they indeed were slightly fatigued, all the more reason to use an instrument approach...and not auto-everything is necessary either, hand flown will do nicely.

One has to wonder...why are the same (more or less) classic mistakes still made on a regular basis? Wrong runwany, wrong airport ...good grief.:mad: :{

Lu Zuckerman
21st Jun 2004, 15:39
Many years ago a civil Convair 440 was setting up to land at Patrick Henry Airport in Newport News, Virginia. He contacted Patrick Henry asking them to turn on their lights. At the same time the US Army airfield at Fort Eustis illuminated their lights. The pilot made a successful landing only to realize he was landing on a Pierced Steel Planking runway and that he was rapidly running out of that. The aircraft overran the runway and came to rest in the mud. They bussed the passengers to nearby Patrick Henry and the next morning the Army pulled the aircraft onto the runway. They had to completely strip the interior of the aircraft and drained much of the fuel from the tanks. The pilot made a successful takeoff and flew to Patrick Henry.

:E :E

21st Jun 2004, 16:06
Globalizer, the list is seemingly endless. Either my Googling skills are wanting or nobody seems to have catalogued all these excursions. Yet. Lots more incidents which I can recall nobody's mentioned.

21st Jun 2004, 16:33

"Thought you good ol' boys were the best in the world?


You may not remember BOAC, "Been over at Cartierville" instead of Dorval in a B-707.
Glass houses and stones etc.

Airbus Girl
21st Jun 2004, 18:14
I know someone who landed at RAF Brize Norton (big airport, huge runway, lots of big military aircraft around at the time) instead of Bicester (little airport, lots of gliders).

22nd Jun 2004, 09:43
Didn't BA put a 747-400 into St Athan insetad of CWL once?

22nd Jun 2004, 10:18
Back in the '60's "Better On A Camel" put a DH Comet into RAF Changi instead of Paya Lebar International, in spite of the protestations of the controller who refused a visual landing as HE couldn't see the inbound on R20.

After announcing that he could see and WAS landing, said "Camel Driver" proceeded to make his visual approach and landed, and was not pleased to discover his error.:mad:

22nd Jun 2004, 10:59
I think you'll find the Brussels/Frankfurt error was United and not NWA ...

22nd Jun 2004, 12:55
No, it was indeed an NWA DC10

Flap 5
22nd Jun 2004, 14:29
So they had a lot of KRAP chucked at them ... sorry. :ouch:

22nd Jun 2004, 15:01
I wonder if the crew would have been sufficiently alerted by the Honeywell Runway Awareness Advisory System (RAAS), if it were fitted. The system calls the runway direction when on short final.
Would crew be aware of the difference between “Approaching 34” and “Approaching 31”? Such a call may just be enough to trigger the subconscious to question the current course of action.

dallas dude
22nd Jun 2004, 16:05
How many pro's here have "nearly" lined up with the incorrect runway at the correct airport?

Also, for discussion, I'm wondering if a HUD device played any part in this mistake. Many carriers (including mine) insist that CA flown approaches are 'HUD' assisted, if installed. From an HR perspective, what seems to be forgotten is that while it's great to have the touchdown point positively identified one's scan (and thus most other pertinent info) disappears and the HUD eventually becomes a crutch.

Environmental capture indeed!

Cheers, DD
(glad it wasn't me!)

22nd Jun 2004, 16:54
From a lowly 172 pilot. At what point did they decide to go visual, and had they at any stage set up instruments for cross referencing? If they did, did they ever look at them? What happened to CRM? Finally what were radar doing at the correct destination?

22nd Jun 2004, 18:16
As I mentioned earlier, RADAR services for both the Rapid City airport and Ellsworth AFB are provided by Ellsworth. In that I live my life on the same side of the mic as those tower and approach folks, I am more than a little curious as to how this could have slipped by two towers and an approach controller. Don't get me wrong... there but for the grace of God... I'm just wondering whether any ATC person might have seen this and thought, "what the hell?"



Plane Landing Catches Runway Painters By Surprise
6/21/2004 5:04:49 PM
Bill Sutton

By now you\'ve probably heard about the off course airliner that grabbed national headlines Saturday by landing on an Ellsworth runway. But what you don\'t know, is what happened while the plane was coming in.
Today three runway painters count themselves very lucky to be alive. Mike Palmer was one of the three painters repainting the runway\'s navigational stripes when they noticed the plane descending. At first they thought it was a fly-over, but when they saw the landing gear come down…they knew there was a problem.

The painters did not receive any advance warning since Ellsworth Air Force Base thought the plane was landing at Rapid City Regional Airport as scheduled.

For security reasons the 117 passengers aboard were forced to stay on the plane for nearly four hours and have since be given free airfare tickets as compensation.

Not in sight, runway 32, cleared to land. A pleasant reminder...


Ignition Override
23rd Jun 2004, 00:08
Runawayedge: Exactly. That was one of my main points. "Certain" airlines still do not require the non-flying pilot, while on a visual approach, to monitor a localizer/VOR course indicator. Don't ever trust a VOR or NDB course to take you to the correct airport or runway-you will sometimes FIRST see the approach lights for the wrong runway.

Don't know if this was the case in RAP, but there was a close call at a southwestern US airport not long ago, which has numerous tightly-spaced parallel runways; another situation where a (correct freq.[?] :ugh: ) localizer course was not monitored, after a quick sidestep to a parallel runway. We can be distracted just making sure that we are now cleared to land on "19"R. What saved the Captain's job/career, was that he never tried to lie about or cover-up what happened. Pilots normally are 'team-players' and try to meet the challenges of demanding ATC requirements. However, suddenly doing a go-around when one feels a bit uncomfortable about something seems to imply that one is not a team-player, or can't handle the challenge. We don't know yet whether the pilots at Ellsworth AFB voiced any concern.

About four years ago, we were deviating around numerous smaller weather build-ups just west of Eglin AFB (Florida panhandle). The overworked Pensacola Approach controller was confused about how much deviating we needed, but we were on a 190* hdg and he suddenly blurted out "Airline ###, you are cleared for the visual approach to Eglin". He was so busy (Navy trainers nearby?) that he sounded like people were shooting at him. We had never stated that Eglin AFB was in sight (actually about 10 miles at our 10 o'clock), nor had any preceding traffic in sight. I told the FO that the AFB several miles at our 12 o'clock did not look at all like Eglin. He said "roger that-it's Hurlburt AFB (!)". Because we were late, I never took the time to call the ATC guy after we landed. An illegal clearance and perfect trap waiting just for you; having 10,000(+) hours in twin-turbine machines won't necessarily prevent the temptation: it can't hurt to brief the other pilot to assume that the first lights, or a runway in the hot haze with the identical shape and size as the correct one, could be at the wrong runway/airport.. :hmm::eek: It is tempting to be what they call "mission-oriented". DON'T be just a team-player, or you can be one landing/takeoff away from the end of your career. Check the taxi charts for Cleveland (Hopkins), Ohio (CLE), identical runway layouts near Greenville-Spartenburg (GSP), SC.

Quite a number of our airports do not have a VOR on the field-it is at least six miles away, and the FAA seems to maintain few NDB/LOMs.

Fortunately, based on numerous posts, most Pprune pilots would never begin to mistake an airport...;)

23rd Jun 2004, 02:08
About ten years ago, decided enough was enough, especially while training new First Officers, who generally get behind the aircraft anyway, at times.

ATC askes,

Can you maintain high speed?....Negative, unable.

Can you accept a visual? Negative, unable.
Can you accept a short approach?...Negative, unable.


ATC got the message loud and clear, and the company didn't complain either.
Better safe than sorry, IMO.

23rd Jun 2004, 05:57
Add to that very sensible list:

Unable LAHSO!

West Coast
23rd Jun 2004, 06:17

Get them all the time. If SOP says no (wet runway, anti skid channel inop, etc) or the hair standing on the back of my neck stands up I say unable. Otherwise I do it and it increases capacity. Last was in to ORD, cleared to land to hold short of a taxiway some 9000 feet down.

As with anything it has to employed wisely.

23rd Jun 2004, 06:33
I'd agree with that - at aerodromes familiar to the operator with established SOPs in place for the aeroplane type.

But an ATC assumption that any commercial air transport category aeroplane operator is automatically able to accept LAHSO is not. Using full reverse and max braking isn't going to be conducive to maintenance costs......and if that leads to a 'hot brakes' incident and call out of the aerdrome fire services, capacity isn't going to be increased much.

So yes, LAHSO can be entirely safe with your sound SOP and airmanship considerations, West C - but I consider that pilots should advise ATC that they are able to accept LAHSO rather than ATC assuming that they can unless advised otherwise.

23rd Jun 2004, 15:25
No great surprise that they've now been suspended - at least for a while.

<<<Pilots suspended after landing at wrong airport
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Two pilots at the controls of a Northwest Airlines flight when it landed at the wrong airport have been suspended from flying pending an investigation, an airline spokesman said Monday.
Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said the two pilots "have been held from service" until the review is complete. No other details were released.

The flight carrying 117 passengers to Rapid City, S.D., veered off course Saturday and landed at nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base.

The plane remained on the ground for more than three hours as the pilots told Air Force security officers what went wrong, and a new crew was dispatched to continue the flight to Rapid City.

Air Force Lt. Christine Millette said the pilots reported that they were in contact with Rapid City controllers on their approach when they descended into a cloud. When the plane came out of the cloud, the first runway the pilots saw was the one at Ellsworth.

Millette said the two runways are about 7 miles apart and parallel to one another. >>>

On the back-biting subject, I did see Concorde settled to land on a disused (light coloured) runway, on a disused airfield, until the tower pointed out that the runway in use was "the dark coloured one" and "about 10 degrees right of the nose". Impressive Go-around ensued.

Brookmans Park
23rd Jun 2004, 16:03
In former company many years ago the chief pilot managed to
squeeze his 707 into an Indian Air Force base near the outer marker(Calcutta/Delhi?)

He then realised that all was not well so took off again

that's the way to do it!!

and of course only tea and no bikkies for one back at base! In the same company we had a turbo prop land at a disused military field rather than Belfast Aldergrove(I must admit to the fact that i was nearly caught by that one following an SRA once

West Coast
23rd Jun 2004, 16:55
"Using full reverse and max braking isn't going to be conducive to maintenance costs"

I think more in operational considerations than what the bean counters want. That said it wouldn't be that hard to make a case for LAHSO based on fiscal considerations. The money that is coming out of the MX budget is made up by the increase in revenue by the extra flights ORD is able to accommodate because of LAHSO.

"But an ATC assumption that any commercial air transport category aeroplane operator is automatically able to accept LAHSO is not"

It is incumbent upon the operator to advise ATC if they are not able to accept a LAHSO clearance. Usually done (per SOP) on initial check in with approach, otherwise ATC expects compliance with LAHSO as with any other clearance.

"but I consider that pilots should advise ATC that they are able to accept LAHSO rather than ATC assuming that they can unless advised otherwise"

Semantics. Either way, those who can accept the LAHSO clearance do and those who cant don't accept it. Doesn't matter if ATC' working on a default or positive acknowledgment. As I said most SOP's that I am aware of require declining LAHSO early on to allow ATC to go to plan B.

I see LAHSO clearances no differently than I see an enroute crossing restriction. Accept it if you can, decline it if you cant.

23rd Jun 2004, 17:47
I quite agree and that's what I used to do. But the operator, regulating for the lowest common denominator, regrettably said "No LAHSO - the crews aren't familiar enough to use it"...and required crews to make ATC aware of it. Which is what I meant in my first post.

That was 4 years or so ago; now that the word has got around on LAHSO I concede that what you say is correct. Tell them if you're unable to accept (and that may be because the opeator's bean counters won't accept the increased brake wear and engine usage from max rate braking to achieve a LAHSO landing), otherwise you should be expected to comply with a LAHSO clearance.

24th Jun 2004, 17:36
Just after an aircraft had landed at the wrong airport:

TWR controller to captain: "........, what are your intentions, Sir?"
Captain replies: "Eh, ........ I think I'm gonna start a sheepfarm in Australia....."

24th Jun 2004, 18:00
BP Ah! Limping Lil at Langford Lodge! They had to bus the pax to BEL - airfield not licenced!

8th Sep 2004, 18:29
NWA fires 2 pilots in landing mistake

Airport confused with military base
September 8, 2004


Northwest Airlines has fired the pilots who on June 19 mistakenly landed a plane at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota instead of the Rapid City Regional Airport, about 7 miles away.

After the wayward landing, Jay Leno and other comedians poked fun at the carrier on national TV. One Leno barb: "Northwest Airlines announced a new slogan today -- 'Where the hell are we?' "

Initially, Northwest "held from service" the two pilots pending a review of the incident, which is still under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airline's pilots union revealed the firings Tuesday when asked about the U.S. Air Force's recent release of tapes of June 19 conversations of air traffic controllers at the military base.

The fired Northwest pilots, whom neither the union nor the company would identify, are grieving their dismissal, said Will Holman, spokesman for the Northwest Airlines Air Line Pilots Association. The firings took place about July 20.

"We believe the punishment is excessive," he said. "Since the incident, charts and navigational databases have been modified to clearly show both" airport and air base locations.

He said there "have been several previous instances" of pilot confusion between the Ellsworth Air Force Base and the Rapid City airport. But none, Holman said, involved Northwest pilots.

Northwest would neither confirm nor deny that the pilots have been fired.

The Ellsworth base provides approach and departure guidance to all planes flying within 40 miles.

In response to a request from the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minn., the Air Force released tapes of its controllers' communications with and about the Northwest plane. The tapes, which apparently include communications with the Rapid City Regional Airport, indicate that the plane's landing at the base surprised not only its pilots but also air traffic controllers who had been watching it.

The base's airfield was closed, as it normally is on Saturdays.

"We didn't even see him land," says a woman on the tape as she speaks with a serviceman who says security forces were "a little upset" to have the commercial airliner on a runway of the B1 bomber base. And he adds, "Col. Brown is not going to be happy with this one," in an apparent reference to base commander Col. Joseph Brown.

The woman speaking on the tape says that mistaken landings had "almost happened a couple of times earlier today."

The Air Force on Tuesday did not identify her but did say she is not a member of the Air Force.

The problem, she indicates, is that civilian planes follow a radio beacon at the nearby regional airport that takes them over the Air Force base.

"They are basically just guiding off a radio and the radio kind of takes them down the center of runway 14" at the Rapid City airport," she says. "So, when they pop out of the clouds, they see the (Air Force base) runway, they don't trust their instruments and all of a sudden make a dive. And that's basically how it happened."

As airliners near the Air Force base, "their data tag drops off," she says about a broadcast electronic identifier. "So, we can't even see them ... when they are over the runway."

Shortly after landing, a pilot on the Northwest plane asked if he could head for the right airport.

"We made a mistake in landing here instead of Rapid City," he says. "If it's OK with you, we can just depart. Hop over."

But it was more than three hours before the plane, an Airbus 319 with 122 passengers and five crewmembers, was allowed to hop over to Rapid City.

During that time, military officials questioned the crew. Eventually, the captain and first officer were replaced by a different Northwest crew, who flew the plane to Rapid City.


Agaricus bisporus
8th Sep 2004, 19:04
A civvy airliner landing at a military base by mistake is certanly a pretty big boo-boo, but let us not forget the far more worrying implications of the US Air Farce which recently tried to perform a "flypast" to demonstrate its superiority in technological precision warfare using 50 near year old "technology"and uterly modern dumb (f+ck) witted humanology at the Farnborough Airshow...and bored a B52 sized 200ft, 300kt hole through the circuit at Blackbushe, a very civil club and training field some 8 miles to the north...

8th Sep 2004, 20:12
“People make errors, which lead to accidents. Accidents lead to deaths. The standard solution is to blame the people involved. If we find out who made the errors and punish them, we solve the problem, right?

Wrong. The problem is seldom the fault of an individual; it is the fault of the system. Change the people without changing the system and the problems will continue.”

Quote from Don Norman

8th Sep 2004, 20:24
Why are euros so afraid of visual approaches. Some of these guys I fly with REQUIRE a nice coloured line on MAP mode linked up to an ILS with a tiny little runway symbol plus speed/altitude inputs and a FMS-calculated profile indication or landing the a/c is simply impossible to compute.

Look outside. See the runway. Land.

Oooooooohhhhhhhh........... but no needles??? How will I know if I'm on slope or aligned with the runway? When should I reduce speed??

Maybe that's what you get when a 200hr pilot goes straight to a 737.

8th Sep 2004, 20:43
Some more quotes for you safetypee:

“Human error is a symptom of trouble deeper inside a system”
“a good safety culture is one which allows the boss to hear the bad news.”
Dr. Sidney Dekker

“Honest and critical self-assessment is one of the most powerful tools that management can employ to measure flight safety margins.”
Flight Safety Foundation Icarus Committee May 1999.

“Every accident is a failure of organization.”
“Errors…are shaped and provoked by upstream workplace and organizational factors. Identifying an error is merely the beginning of the search for causes, not the end.”
James Reason, Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents, 1997.

“…we need to change one of the biggest historical characteristics of aviation safety improvements - our reactive nature. We must get in front of accidents … anticipate them …and use hard data to detect problems and disturbing trends.”
FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey Charting the Next Century of Aviation Safety North American Safety Conference Atlanta, Georgia Feb 5, 2003

Air-hag, ‘euros’ are not afraid of visual approaches; they just don’t make so many mistakes when the weather is bad.

8th Sep 2004, 21:27
“they just don’t make so many mistakes when the weather is bad.”

Say old buddy, you might read this entire thread about the many mistakes your Euro pilots admitted to and related about. Ain’t none of us perfect and anybody with more than a few thousand hours will admit, “But for the grace of God, or good old plain dumb luck, go I.”

These guys made a mistake, I don’t think they should have gotten fired over this incident. Demoted and retrained yes, but not fired.

PS I got 21,000 hours, how much you got?

Faire d'income
9th Sep 2004, 00:13
Why are euros so afraid of visual approaches.

IF you have a choice of a precision or visual approach what is the professional answer? Which is the safer approach?

I rather keep safe and keep my job rather than lose it trying to prove something pointless to no-one in particular.

West Coast
9th Sep 2004, 04:05
Agaricus bisporus

Would that be the same way the RAF tornado crew did it at the other, other airshow a few weeks back?

Ignition Override
9th Sep 2004, 04:15
A guy at the airline told me that the Airbus crew doing the VOR approach into RAP was a bit high for the distance from Ellsworth after spotting the tempting runway, and pushed the nose over during what must have become an unstable approach.

And there are contradictions between what was in the crew's safety reports and what was learned form studying ATC tapes.

Any attempt to cover-up the truth or seriously distort facts about an incident can often result in a company firing (sacking) you. The one thing that saved another turbofan Captain from being fired years ago (landing in IMC on the wrong parallel runway) was that he told the whole truth. Look, there is too much info available to allow you to cover things up, and it is not considered responsible or honest. Don't even think about it, unless indepedently wealthy. Too many facts working against you (possibly the other pilot!), so (s)he can save his professional skin. :uhoh:

9th Sep 2004, 06:48
I’m sorry but this kind of thing by an airline is TOTALLY unacceptable. Don’t Northwest have SOPs? What the f@@@ were ATC doing? Surely there is radar in and around KRAP to monitor activity? Landing a Cessna at the wrong airfield I can understand – you don’t have a lot to help guide when compared to a modern digital commercial airliner with IRS/INS/GPS whatever Northwest have chosen to install. What plates were they reading? Surely a 7nm error in their mental picture should have triggered some alarm bells. My Company SOPs are very straight forward and insist on crosschecking all the time on an approach, instrument or visual. We do the crosschecking ALL the time even when going into our home base. I just find this kind of thing totally unacceptable in 2004. ATC should so also take the blame here. Amazing!

9th Sep 2004, 08:02
In the 60's, a lot of RAF Britannia transport pilots were known to be arrogant sh*ts, since they were at the top of the pile next to the Comet Guys [who were an ok bunch]. I don't know what it was about them, but they sure acted like Gods.

One fine sunny afternoon at Scampton, we were expecting a Brit trainer to shoot some circuits and he duly called for joining clearance. Runway 23, etc details passed. A short time later he called finals to roll, but none of us could see him. Just then, the tower-tower link from Waddington [runway 21, 10 miles south] asked if we knew anything about a Britannia who wasn't talking to them.

The penny dropped, and the Scampton controller politely and matter-of-fact advised the pilot that he suspected he was lined up on short finals at Waddington. A blistering and very rude reply was received to the effect that how dare the controller question his prowess, etc, etc.

Without batting an eyelid, the controller said [words to the effect] that if that aircraft so much as grazes the runway in front of him right now, he [the controller] would personally telephone the Commander-in Chief of Transport Command, complete with Captain's name, and report the unauthorised entry into Bomber Command airspace, together with the violation of a bookful of air traffic procedures.

Not another word heard from the aircraft as it overshot Waddington, called them and apologised before departing direct to wherever [Lyneham, I think].

9th Sep 2004, 09:47
Air-hag said:

Why are euros so afraid of visual approaches

I think visual approaches in borderline conditions in Europe are a bit more risky from the point of view that there is a very high density of large, paved runways (eg southern England) not all of which are civil, suitable or useable, in close proximity to target airports.

Also with our smaller landmass we have a very large coverage of radar due to close proximity of several busy control zones and military LARS - your mistakes can get picked up pretty quickly and tea and biks is a worrying prospect.

I know the American posters on Pprune have been getting tetchy about their status recently and wails of "America-bashing" are frequent these days (don't you have your own US version of prune or what?) but the way to alleviate that is probably not to start willy-waving about euro pilots' lack of moral fibre!!! Safety first - who's gonna argue with that?

9th Sep 2004, 12:31
you have a choice of a precision or visual approach what is the professional answer? Which is the safer approach? Wake up and smell the napalm. Most people know there are places where decisions are effectively made for you. You don't HAVE to carry out a visual approach but it will help your case.

It's not about safety, it's about movements per hour, shaving off flight hours, saving that 0.5t of fuel, noise abatement over some MP's house, whatever. The bean-counters dictate and the drivers do.

If at Sydney airport (the be-all and end-all, as we all know) during parallel ops, they ask if you're visual on a CAVOK day and you say "No" because you need to fly your full ILS procedure to avoid wetting yourself then you'll find yourself out doing scenic laps of the beaches while others who CAN fly a visual approach are vectored in.I think visual approaches in borderline conditions in Europe are a bit more risky from the point of view that there is a very high density of large, paved runways (eg southern England) not all of which are civil, suitable or useable, in close proximity to target airports So you're saying it can happen, this landing at wrong airport business. I thought you were all so smart?? So why the "bashing"?

I love the blank look of incomprehension on these guys' faces when they hear the APP guy say, "Make visual approach, not below the glideslope," or however they put it. It's hilarious for about 5 seconds or so, until I have to explain how to land the a/c without any needles.

Hey Slim20 you should be nice to Americans on "your" beloved pprune or the Americans might remove you from "their" internet.

Del Prado
9th Sep 2004, 12:50
and here was me thinking the internet was a british invention.

9th Sep 2004, 13:05
It was??????

Oh. Well when the hell are you gonna speed the bloody thing up?

9th Sep 2004, 15:19
There are two serious safety issues here:
First, the appalling safety culture shown by this operator’s management in the way in which they punished the crew without apparent identifying or fixing the root cause of the problem. Following on from safetypee’s quote, then ‘if your investigation concludes that crew error is the cause then start again, because there is always something else behind crew error’. Also another quote from James Reason, “Don’t swat the mosquitoes – drain the swamp”

Second, the warning signs from this incident - "have been several previous instances" "almost happened a couple of times earlier today" and apparently many other similar incidents in our industry. This is a particularly worrying trend (if it is increasing or just improved reporting), in that many of the aircraft involved (world-wide) have databases, and map displays showing airports and beacons. Why then are crews loosing positional awareness when the aircraft are better equipped to show location? Complacency, lacking discipline, inappropriate training, and it’s not just the captain who is making the mistake, it is the crew. Many of these aspects are very similar to the precursors of the spate of CFIT accidents several years ago. Thankfully, for CFIT we now have EGPWS, but until we get RAAS that has the capability to announce or question the runway that the aircraft is lined up with, we may have to face many more embarrassing incidents and increased risks from runway incursion or airborne collision.

con-pilot Visual approaches – “it's about movements per hour, shaving off flight hours, saving that 0.5t of fuel”; so why do the large US airports get all snarled up when the weather goes IFR? Reduced movements, delay, fuel burnt on the ground, etc.

Your 21,000hs? The last two fatal accidents that I investigated both captains had over 19,000 hrs, didn’t do them much good either. However, during my career with very much less flying time than yours, I have probably made more mistakes.

11th Sep 2004, 12:24
Eh... it happens, shouldn't, but it does...

In 1967, the crew of a TWA 707 mistook the Ohio State University Airport (KOSU) for Port Columbus International Airport (KCMH). After shuttling all passengers and baggage to Port Columbus, and removing all galley equipment and seats, the plane was light enough to depart for the larger facility across town.

There are pictures of a B707 holding position on our tiny 5000'x100' rwy

Layout is not similar, direction is, however the rwys at KCMH are twice as long if not longer.

KCMH (RWYs 10L-28R, 10R-28L)

KOSU (RWYs 9R-27L, 9L-27R)

ALSO SEE http://www.thirdamendment.com/wrongway.html
A little history... This stuff happens a lot

Final 3 Greens
11th Sep 2004, 14:34
Air Hag

You don't seem to understand how the internet works.

If you cut us off from "it", it will find another to route us, using other resources globally and you will then have cut yourself off from the world.

Well, maybe that's in line with what your President's actions will likely achieve ;)

11th Sep 2004, 16:07
alf5071h actually I did not write that, however I will try to answer your question.

Under VFR conditions, good VFR such as ceiling greater than 5,000ft and five miles, many more aircraft can land and takeoff in any given time period because the ATC can use visual separation for traffic rather than the standard IFR/radar separation.

A good case in point is St. Louis (KSTL) airport. The runways are too close together to allow parallel approaches under IMC operations, therefore in IMC the landing operations are nearly cut in half when compared to VMC operations. The same problems exists for departures, the controllers can depend on the pilots to provide visual separation with the instructions of, “Cleared for takeoff, keep the aircraft in front of you in sight.” Or something like that. When the aircraft in question have similar operational profiles both aircraft came climb on the same vector, with slower aircraft one of the two are given a turn to assist in separation. An excellent airport to observe how effective VMC operations can be is Chicago O Hara (KORD). I truly believe that the best air traffic controllers in the world work at KORD; they are akin to poetry in motion.

I have always been under the impression from my experience in Europe that the same separation standards are used regardless of the weather conditions; I very well could be mistaken. I realize that overall the weather is generally better in the US and we have a lot more airspace. There is an advantage of always using standard IFR separation regardless of weather conditions, which is of course knowing the precise number of aircraft operations per hour one can have at any given airport. However this does little to promote traffic flow.

When weather conditions exists I will always request a visual approach, however, if there is a precision approach available for the runway I will have it on the flight director and monitor the approach while performing the visual approach. This is just good common sense. In the absence of a precision approach one must use situational awareness to help determine alignment on the proper runway, such as knowing which side of the runway the taxiways and buildings are on as in the case of Rapid City (KRAP).

I in no way believe that the fact that I have 21,000 hours will prevent me from having an accident or incident, however the fact that have never had an accident or incident in those 21,000 hours shows that I have been doing something right and I would be a liar not to also admit that sometimes good old fashion luck has played a role in my career. Any pilot near my experience level that claims lady luck has not helped them is a liar. At least in my humble opinion.

Any way I hope this helped clear up any questions you had on the subject of visual approaches here in the US.

PS everybody knows that Al Gore invented the internet, he said so!:)

11th Sep 2004, 19:05
Early 1990's.
I'm flying MIA-SDQ (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.)
The ILS is out of service, wx is marginal VFR w/ CB's in the
vicinity. Approach in use is a VOR, overhead teardrop
style. There was (still is) a caution on the plate about
mistaking a military airfield for SDQ. Said airfield is located
1-1:30 as one turns inbound on the final course.
In the old days my carrier considered SDQ as a 'special
hit city' and required us to observe a video. We put
a B747 into that military field in the early 70's.
F/O is flying and I mention the importance of 'raw data' to
verify proper landing.
The F/O seemed both surprised and happy as he stated;
"oh, you don't know about me."
The week prior he had landed a B727 at that military airfield.
This is the best part! -
On that appoach (week prior/wrong airport) a
F/C passenger yelled to the F/A; "tell the pilot that he is landing
at the wrong airport!!!" The F/A told him; "Sir, this is American
Airlines, not Dominicana, we don't do that kind of
-True story.

Ignition Override
13th Sep 2004, 04:37
Clipper 811. Excellent story. So much for that Flight Attendant's arrogance/ignorance, and unwillingness to share vital safety concerns with her crew.

It is also a bit strange how Tower (or Approach) Controllers can clear an airplane to land and then never notice that the plane has disappeared.
:confused: :ouch:

West Coast
13th Sep 2004, 23:41
"This is the best part! -
On that appoach (week prior/wrong airport) a
F/C passenger yelled to the F/A; "tell the pilot that he is landing
at the wrong airport!!!" The F/A told him; "Sir, this is American
Airlines, not Dominicana, we don't do that kind of
-True story"

This is beginning to sound like the light house story and the US Navy ship. Everyone ends the tale with "True story"
Funny enough that same light house has also repelled a number of other navies ships, all depending on who tells it.

True story

14th Sep 2004, 07:56
West Coast.

It is also the most mobile lighthouse I have ever heard of (over the course of the years it has been positioned off both the East and West coasts of Canada, off Ireland, off Lands End (England), close to the Scilly Isles and off Crete (I think it must have been on it's holidays for the last one).

15th Sep 2004, 08:13
Ignition Overide,
Another oversight/mistake was that in the rush to land the crew never obtained landing clearance.
Sorry for the "True Story" label but it's actually well known among the crews who flew the B727 into/out of MIA in the early to mid 90's.
Just for info, you might be surprised to know that the a/c *with* passengers was flown on the short hop to SDQ by the same crew, albeit after a lengthy delay.
Not the case with the years earlier B747.

Cheers, 811

18th Sep 2004, 17:20
Prime Minister Takes a Wrong Turn

The Royal Air Force had a red face on Friday when they were taking the Prime Minister from London to Scotland. The BAe 146 jet of the Queen's Flight took the PM to Edinburgh instead of Glasgow! Due to "an administrative error" the paperwork for the flight had the wrong destination and the plane landed at the airport - much to everyone's surprise. After safety checks, the plane took off again for the 50 mile flight to Glasgow. Later in the day the PM went to Perth - by road.

Source: http://www.rampantscotland.com/letter1998.htm

18th Sep 2004, 17:30
Wasn't there a 'True story' about 15 years ago, where an aircraft mistook the A4 from 27R at LHR?:8

19th Sep 2004, 06:31
How can a pilot land on wrong airfield? Wrong runway can be understood but wrong airport?? The pilots must be drunk or something?

19th Sep 2004, 08:18
Pilots can land at the wrong airfield when procedures are not strictly folowed, when crew not properly rested, when an adjacent airfield comes into view during the carrying out of a non precision approach procedure before the intended landing airfield...many reasons..don't think "drunk" had anything to do with it...and if u have to ask this,"mdfun80" one would be led to believe you are inexperienced, or not even a pilot...

geoffrey thomas
19th Sep 2004, 13:43
Getting back to the Brussels/Frankfurt incident. It was Northwest and Flight International headlined the story with "DC-10 misses runway by 300 miles."
According to Flight, it was the passengers who altered the cabin crew to the problem which they were watching unfold on the airshow mapping program.
The crew continued with the landing and for memory the captain resigned.