Oops! Delta Jet Lands At The Wrong Airport, NTSB Investigation Concludes Pilot Error!


About a year ago we wrote about a Delta Airlines flight that mistakenly landed at the wrong airport ,an Air Force base which was located just nearby it’s original destination.

The NTSB has now completed it’s investigation into the matter and concluded that the pilots are to blame for the snafu which left passengers stranded on the Air Force base for several hours.

Eventually the flight took off and landed at it’s scheduled destination in Rapid City about three hours later than originally planned.

You can access our article from July 2017 here.

To quickly recapitulate:

… More than 100 Delta passengers on board a flight bound for Rapid City, South Dakota got an unexpected surprise Thursday night when their plane mistakenly landed at an Air Force Base, about five miles north of the aircraft’s intended target. …

“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,” the FAA released in a statement to ABC News. …

The flight, which took off from Minneapolis/St. Paul, did eventually leave for Rapid City after coordinating with officials, Delta added in the statement. Expected to land at 8:50 p.m. local time, Delta flight 2845 eventually landed nearly three hours later at 11:31 p.m. local time.

Absolutely embarrassing for a major airline like Delta but I guess things happen sometimes. In fact it has been confirmed that it isn’t the first time this has happened as confirmed by the Air Force.

Since this incident occurred in early July last year the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) has conducted an investigation and determined Pilot Error as the primary cause of the incident.

The Star Tribune (access here) reported about the NTSB’s findings.

Federal authorities have blamed pilot error for a Delta Air Lines jet with 130 passengers landing at the wrong airport in South Dakota last year, noting that the flight crew had been cautioned that the two airports are close and easy to confuse. …

The two airfields have runways running northwest-to-southeast that nearly line up, with compass headings only 10 degrees apart, the report noted. Pilot confusion between the two is “fairly common,” the report said, though air traffic controllers and flight crews usually catch the error before landing. Previous mistaken landings at the base include a Northwest Airlines flight in 2004 and a business jet in 2015.

Delta’s own pilot guidance notes that Ellsworth lies northwest of Rapid City on final approach to the runway where the crew intended to land. “These airports have similar runway alignment and can be mistaken for one another,” the guidance says. …

In this case, the report said, a controller who cleared the crew for a visual approach to Rapid City from the northwest advised them, “use caution for Ellsworth Air Force base located 6 miles northwest of Rapid City Regional.”

The first officer acknowledged the clearance and asked the captain: “‘You got the right one in sight?’ The captain replied, ‘I hope I do,'” the report said.

That’s actually somewhat hilarious in the context of what happened but I guess all things considered there shouldn’t be much reason to laugh about this incident.


The article mentions that the captain (age 61) retired after this mishap which really doesn’t shine a good light on Delta. The First Officer underwent re-training and is back in the cockpit. While being the exception, landings at incorrect airports are not totally uncommon.

In April 2016 an Aeromexico flight to Monterrey landed at a wrong airport (see here) and back in 2014 a Southwest crew also strayed off course when it touched down at an incorrect airport in Missouri (see here) where the plane stopped just 500 ft before the end of a much shorter runway (half the length) of it’s original destination. The co-pilot of said Southwest flight retired 3 months later but the Captain was back in the cockpit by then.

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