Continental Connection Flight 3222 Operated By Colgan Air Lands at Wrong Airport (From KPLC)
SULPHUR, LA. - Colgan Airlines, a company familiar to Western New Yorkers after the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence Center in February 2009, has made headlines again.
This time it's because pilots apparently landed a commuter plane at the wrong airport.
Continental Connection Flight 3222 was supposed to land at Lake Charles Regional Airport in Louisiana on September 7th, after taking off from Houston. Instead it landed at Southland Field, another airport that caters more to private planes, just 8 nautical miles away.
Southland Field's manager Sam Larsh confirms the wrong way landing to 2 On Your Side.
He says the runways at both airports run in the same direction, similar approach coordinates and they have comparable lighting, but Larsh says those are both things that are determined by the FAA.
This is not the first time that a wrong landing has been made at Southland Field. In 1997, there were two incidents within months of each other when Continental Express flights mistook Southland for the Lake Charles Airport. It's important to note that Colgan Air does not operate under Continental Express, only Continental Connection, and they were not involved in those wrong landings.
A spokesperson for Pinnacle Airlines, Colgan's parent company, emphasized to 2 On Your Side on the phone that this was "a very isolated incident" and that there is currently an internal investigation while the company collects information on a report to send to the FAA.
The crew of the plane has been "relieved of duty" while the investigation is underway. We were told they were familiar with the route, and had flown to the Lake Charles Airport before.
The airline also says the pilots were cleared for a visual approach by air traffic control out of Houston, because the tower at the airport they were supposed to land at was unmanned at that hour. But not relying on instruments is where Larsh believes the mistake began.
He tells us it was a clear night, and he believes the pilots saw the lights from his airport and assumed it was the correct one, instead of relying on instruments to tell them where they were landing. Larsh says Southland's radio frequency for landing is different than Lake Charles, and the pilots would have been able to tell they were in the wrong area if they looked at their instruments. The manager cautions that he doesn't know what happened for sure, but "reason dictates that has to be what happened," he said. Pinnacle's spokesperson says the investigation is still ongoing, and they can't say exactly what happened in the cockpit but they are currently doing interviews to find out how decisions were made.
"It all comes back to pilot training, airline pilots need to be held to a higher standard," according to Larsh. Pilot training was one of the major issues brought up by the Flight 3407 families in their fight for more air safety regulations in the wake of the Clarence Crash.
That fight is still going on, as many of the new air safety rules that were supposed to take effect in August are stuck in the Obama administration's budget office. Something the families called attention to just this past Tuesday.
After one of the 1997 incidents in Louisiana, some crew members were assigned to be retrained. When asked if that could be a possible outcome in this case, Pinnacle's spokesperson says that is one thing that could happen in a wide range of options.
- Send an e-mail to the White House on Air Safety Regulations. 2 on Your Side will pass along every message.
- Check out a list of Wrong Way Landings across the decades.