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June 20, 2004
Northwest Airlines: We Get You There ... Eventually

As a resident of the Twin Cities, I have flown Northwest Airlines for many years. While I don't necessarily agree with the local nickname for the pride of Eagan -- Northworst -- after hearing about their navigational talent, I'm not so sure:

Robert Morrell wondered what was up after his Northwest Airlines flight touched down.

Nobody from the flight crew got on the intercom to welcome passengers to Rapid City, S.D. He looked out the window and saw barracks-like structures and military officials. And then the crew told passengers to pull down their window shades.

Turns out it wasn't Rapid City Regional Airport. It was Ellsworth Air Force Base.

The Northwest pilots landed at the wrong airport! Ellsworth is a few miles short of the Rapid City Regional Airport, and apparently the crew mistook one for the other. Passengers who expected to disembark on landing were instead told to shut their window blinds, and waited on the tarmac while Air Force security personnel interrogated the flight crew. Eventually, three hours later, Northwest sent a new flight crew to put the plane back into the air for the lengthy flight to Rapid City.

How did something like that happen? After all, pilots have to be in contact with the flight tower on approach, and that assumes that someone is watching the radar screen. Didn't the tower let them know they were descending too short for their runway? For that matter, didn't the lack of terminal facilities and the plethora of fighter jets give the pilots an idea that they may be landing at the wrong facility? Of course, two Northwest pilots made national news a few years back when they got pulled over for FWI -- flying while intoxicated -- when airport personnel at their departure point notified security officers at their arrival point that they were drunk. Somehow, one has to suspect tht alcohol played some part in yesterday's misdirection.

The passengers yesterday, according to Morrell, made up their own mind about what happened:

"Everyone is surmising it was pilot error. The presumption is that the pilot just landed at the wrong ... airport.''

Anyone want to guess what word the ellipsis replaced? Anyone? Don't all volunteer at once ...

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 20, 2004 7:45 PM

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