Wings Magazine

Third person in cockpit during misdirected Southwest flight

Jan. 16, 2014, Dallas, Tx. - A third person in the cockpit of a Southwest Airlines plane that landed at the wrong Missouri airport was a company dispatcher who had authority to be there, airline officials said Tuesday.

January 16, 2014  By The Associated Press

The airline and federal officials say they're continuing to
investigate why the Southwest Boeing 737 with 124 passengers headed for
the main airport in Branson, Mo., instead landed several miles away at a
smaller airport with a runway roughly half as long. It's not uncommon
for airline employees to sit in the jumpseat with the pilots'
permission, but investigators are likely to consider whether the
dispatcher's presence distracted the pilots.


The two pilots, men with at least 12
years each at Southwest, were placed on paid leave after Sunday's
flight. The airline said Tuesday that the dispatcher also has been
placed on paid leave. Southwest declined to provide more information
about the dispatcher's background and purpose for being in the cockpit.
Spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said that the National Transportation
Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, asked the airline not
to disclose that and other information yet.



Dispatchers work with
pilots to plan flight routes and fuel loads after considering weather
and other factors. Southwest officials said the dispatcher was sitting
behind the captain and first officer.


Investigators plan to interview both pilots and the dispatcher, safety board spokesman Keith Holloway said.


NTSB investigators seized the plane's
cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder — the so-called black
box. Holloway said that information from the recorders was being
analyzed Tuesday afternoon, but it could be a few days before the board
releases preliminary findings.

Aviation experts wondered why neither pilot realized that they were approaching the wrong airport.


"I think that they weren't communicating
in the cockpit the way they should — back and forth," said Robert
Francis, a former NTSB vice chairman. "Everybody has a responsibility to
pay attention to the instruments."


Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of a
Senate aviation subcommittee, wrote Tuesday to Federal Aviation
Administration head Michael Huerta and demanded a thorough
investigation, saying "the flying public and residents surrounding every
commercial airport in the country deserve answers."


No one was injured in the
landing at a small airport built for light jets and private planes, but
passengers smelled burning rubber as the pilots braked hard to stop near
the end of the runway, which gives way to a steep drop-off. The manager
of the Taney County Airport, which opened in 1970 and doesn't have a
control tower, said no 737 had ever landed there.


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