Every now and then, stories arise concerning aircraft that, for whatever reason, have landed at a different airport to the one that they set off intending to reach. Here’s a look back at some historical examples, and how the situations arose.
The phenomenon of an aircraft landing at the wrong airport has happened several times over the years in the UK. One such instance involved a Pan Am Boeing 707 flying from Tokyo to London Heathrow via Hong Kong and Frankfurt. However, due to confusion regarding similar runway orientations, the flight actually ended up touching down at nearby RAF Northolt, some 10 km (six miles) away.
More recently, a British Airways CityFlyer service from London City Airport to Düsseldorf found itself even further off course. Specifically, a paperwork error saw the flight’s pilots given a flight plan to Scotland’s Edinburgh Airport, to which they flew none the wiser. It was only upon landing in Edinburgh that the scale of the blunder became clear. The flight eventually continued to Düsseldorf.
Northwest Airlines’ European tour
In 1995, another Germany-bound flight also found itself off course. In this instance, the incident concerned a Northwest Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flying from Detroit to Frankfurt. The trijet instead landed in the Belgian capital of Brussels, allegedly due to a wrongly inputted code in the service’s flight plan.
By the time the crew realized their mistake, it was safest for them to land in Brussels anyway. Photo: Getty Images
Ethiopian Airlines’ examples
Ethiopian Airlines has had several occurrences along these lines, with one involving a Boeing 767 back in 2013. When flying from Addis Ababa to Kilimanjaro, the jet landed at the nearby Arusha Airport instead. The two airports were 50km (31 miles) apart but had the same runway orientations, which caused the 767 to touch down at an airport that wasn’t exactly built for widebodies.
Meanwhile, April 2021 saw one of the carrier’s cargo-carrying Boeing 737s touch down at the then-unopened Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport in Ndola, Zambia. It should instead have landed at the city’s older airport, now known as Peter Zuze Air Force Base. Once again, runways with similar orientations are said to have played a role, with a second 737 almost repeating the mistake.
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Japan Airlines’ Indian incident
Last week marked 50 years since a Japan Airlines Douglas DC-8 found itself off course while operating flight 472 from London to Tokyo via Frankfurt, Rome, Beirut, Tehran, Bombay, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. Despite intending to make a stopover at Bombay’s Santacruz Airport (BOM), the quadjet instead touched down (and overshot the runway) at the city’s much smaller Juhu Aerodrome.
It has now been half a century since the incident involving Japan Airlines flight 472. Photo: Getty Images
Over in the US, a Boeing 747 ‘Dreamlifter’ outsize freighter made headlines back in 2013 when it mistakenly touched down at Colonel James Jabara Airport. This facility was eight nautical miles away from its intended destination of McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas. The short runway at its unplanned destination meant that getting the plane out of there was an interesting challenge!
Elsewhere in the US, 1997 saw a Continental Airlines Boeing 737 fly off course during an intra-Texas domestic hop. Traveling from Houston to Corpus Christi International Airport, it instead landed at the nearby Corpus Christi-Cabaniss Field naval airbase. The runway in question had been closed for almost 40 decades, meaning that, while uninjured, the flight’s 59 occupants had a bumpy touchdown.