Delta Air Lines Plane Mistakenly Lands At Wrong Airport In South Dakota

A Delta Air Lines plane on its way from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to Rapid City, South Dakota, mistakenly landed at a wrong airport reports ABC News. The strange incident happened on Thursday night when the aircraft, an Airbus A320, landed at the Ellsworth Air Force Base located five miles north of the actual airport where the plane was supposed to land.

According to Delta Air Lines, there were more than 100 passengers onboard the plane when the incident happened. Officials from the Ellsworth Air Force Base also confirmed that the incident happened, terming it an “unauthorized landing.” A statement issued by the officials at the Air Force base read as follows.

“Base officials followed the proper procedures to address the situation and ensure the safety of our Airmen, their families and the passengers.”

Meanwhile, an investigation has already been launched by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The FAA, in a statement to ABC News said the following.

“The pilots of the Airbus A320 had been cleared to land at Rapid City Regional Airport. The aircraft instead touched down at Ellsworth Air Force Base, shortly before 7:45 p.m. local time.”

Describing the incident as a “gross breach of security,” Col. Gentry Boswell, 28th Bomb Wing commander at Ellsworth Air Force Base, revealed that the pilots on the Delta Air Lines plane were given clear instructions about the locations of the two runways.

“The Radar Approach Control gave instructions to the Delta flight in this instance and pointed out BOTH runways to the flight crew to alleviate any issues with identification of the correct airport and the crew replied they had the landing runway at Rapid City Regional Airport in sight.

“This was a gross breach of the security of our Airfield that present[ed] a potential threat to both our Airmen and our resources.”

By Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland - Delta Air Lines Airbus A320-211; N316US@LAX;10.10.2011/622rh, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Officials do, however, add that both the runways are located relatively close to each other with similar orientation and landing direction. There are also significant differences between the two. The one at Ellsworth Air Force Base is 13,500-feet long, while the one at the Rapid City Regional Airport is considerably shorter at just 8,701-feet in length. The Ellsworth runway is also wider (300 feet) compared to the 150 feet runway at the regional airport. Both the runways can also identified by their different markings. While the runway at the Air Force Base has been marked “13,” the smaller runway at the regional airport has a large “14” sign that helps pilots identify the two when in line of sight.

“Incidents like this occur when pilots fail to execute the basic measures of airmanship,” said Boswell.


Meanwhile, the crew on board the Delta Air Lines flight have been de-rostered and will be questioned for the serious lapse. The company also said they would launch an internal investigation into the incident and that they will co-operate with officials in the investigations.

“Delta will fully cooperate with that investigation and has already begun an internal review of its own. Safety is always Delta’s top priority,” the statement read.

As for the landed plane, the flight did leave the Air Force base and landed at the correct airport — albeit after a three-hour delay. The plane was supposed to land at 8:50 p.m. and it only made it to the airport by 11:31 p.m., local time.

Incidentally, this is not the first time an incident of similar nature has happened in the area. Back in 2004, a Northwest Airlines flight too, had mistakenly landed at the Ellsworth Air Force Base. That plane was also headed towards the Rapid City Regional Airport.

[Image By Aero Icarus | Flickr | Cropped and resized | CC BY-SA 2.0 | Wikimedia Commons]