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Southwest Airlines pilots grounded after landing at wrong airport

BRANSON, Mo. (CNN) — Welcome to Branson, Missouri. Well, maybe not.

southwestA Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago’s Midway International Airport was scheduled to land Sunday night at Branson Airport in southwest Missouri. Instead, the Boeing 737-700 touched down at Taney County’s M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport — about seven miles away and which has a significantly shorter runway.

The plane landed about 500 feet from the end of the runway, according to Chris Berndt, the Western Taney County Fire District fire chief and emergency management director. Earlier Jeff Bourk, Branson Airport’s executive director, said the plane stopped 300 feet from the end of the runway.

No one was injured, Berndt said Monday.

Southwest Airlines announced later Monday that the pilots were suspended from flying duties pending an investigation.

The Taney County airport doesn’t usually handle big jets. Its runway is about half the length of the Branson Airport — 3,738 feet to 7,140 feet.

As a result, the pilot had to do a lot of heavy braking as soon as the Boeing 737-700 touched down.

Without the firm foot on the brakes,the plane could have overshot the end of the runway, tumbled down an embankment and onto U.S. Highway 65.

“Really happy (the) pilot applied brakes the way he did,” said Scott Schieffer, one of 124 passengers aboard Southwest Flight 4013. “Who knows what would have happened?”

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have launched an investigation.

The pilots declined to talk about what happened as they deboarded, Berndt said. The biggest challenge after the aircraft landed, he added, was finding steps for passengers to get off the plane. Steps had to be brought in from Branson Airport, he said, and passengers were delayed by two hours.

While waiting, Schieffer and the other passengers ate peanuts provided by flight attendants. Southwest offered them a $200 travel voucher, he said.

When the flight landed, Schieffer recalled the pilot coming on the intercom and saying, “Welcome to Branson.”

A few minutes later, he apologized.

“I’m sorry, ladies and gentleman. We have landed at the wrong airport,” the pilot said, according to Schieffer.

Kevin Riley, who lives near the airport, said he was sitting in his living room when he heard the flight land.

“I thought it was a military plane because it’s so loud,” he said. “This airport takes small planes … nothing to the level or volume of that plane.”

Another area resident, Jeffrey Engel, said it surprised him, too.

“We’re used to hearing Cessnas land and take off,” he said. “It’s a small airport.”

The passengers were bused from the Taney airport to Branson Airport.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said Sunday night he didn’t yet have enough information to say why the plane landed at the wrong location.

“No timeline on flying out the aircraft from that other airport. It could happen as early as (Monday) morning,” he said.

CNN first learned of the landing error from tweets from the region.

Sunday night’s incident brought to mind another landing at a wrong airport two months earlier.

In November, a mammoth cargo plane landed at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas — one that typically does not accommodate such beasts and with a runway half a mile shorter than it usually uses.

The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter was bound for McConnell Air Force Base from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. But instead of landing at the military airport on Wichita’s southeast side, it landed at the much smaller, general aviation Col. James Jabara Airport on the northeast side.

In August 2012, a regional commuter plane landed at the wrong West Virginia airport.

United Express Flight 4049 operated by Silver Airways was supposed to fly from Morgantown to Clarksburg but landed instead at Fairmont Municipal Airport about 10 miles away.

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