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Delta Air Lines Plane Accidentally Lands At Ellsworth Air Force Base

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WASHINGTON — A Delta Air Lines jetliner with 130 passengers on board landed at the wrong airport in South Dakota Thursday evening, said a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident.

The Delta A320 landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base at 8:42 p.m. Central Time Thursday, when its destination was an airport in Rapid City, board spokesman Peter Knudson said Friday.

Ellsworth is about 10 miles due north of Rapid City Regional Airport. The two airports have runways that are oriented nearly identically to the compass, from northwest to southeast.

Delta Flight 2845 had departed from Minneapolis.

delta a320
A United Airlines Boeing 757 taxis past a Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on May 3, 2010. (Photo: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Delta has contacted the passengers "and offered a gesture of apology for the inconvenience,'' the airline said in a statement.

The crew has been taken off-duty while NTSB investigates, the statement said. "Delta will fully co-operate with that investigation and has already begun an internal review of its own,'' it added.

The Air Force said in a statement that said base officials "followed the proper procedures to address the situation'' and ensured the safety of those at the base and passengers.

The base did not immediately respond to a request for information about the specific procedures and whether air traffic controllers at the base where in contact with the pilot and authorized the landing.

Over 150 flights at wrong airports since early 1990s

Landings at wrong airports by commercial pilots, while unusual, are still more common than many passengers may realize or airlines would like to acknowledge.

An Associated Press search two years ago of government safety data and news reports since the early 1990s found at least 150 flights in which U.S. commercial passenger and cargo planes have either landed at the wrong airport or started to land and realized their mistake in time.

Of the 35 documented wrong landings, at least 23 occurred at airports with shorter runways, creating potential safety issues.

Close calls

In most cases, the pilots were cleared by controllers to fly based on what they could see rather than relying on automation. Many incidents occurred at night, with pilots reporting they were attracted by the runway lights of the first airport they saw during descent. Some pilots said they disregarded navigation equipment that showed their planes slightly off course because the information didn't match what they were seeing out their windows — a runway straight ahead.

On Jan. 12, 2014, the pilots of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 stopped their plane just short of a ravine at the end of a short runway in Hollister, Missouri, when they had meant to land on a runway twice as long at nearby Branson.

A few months earlier, an Atlas Air Boeing 747 freighter landed at the tiny Jabara Airport in Wichita, Kansas, instead of McConnell Air Force Base about eight miles away. The runway is considered 3,000 feet less than ideal for the plane, one of the largest in the world. It took about 10 hours to turn the plane around and ready it for takeoff again. A nearby highway was shut down as a safety precaution.

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Associated Press writer Regina Garcia Cano contributed to this report from Sioux Falls, S.D.