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Delta flight lands at wrong airport

Perhaps the first indication that something was wrong Thursday night after a Delta Airlines flight landed was that the other jets parked at the airport were B-1 bombers belonging to the United States Air Force.

It happened when a Delta flight carrying some 130 passengers from Minneapolis landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base instead of Rapid City Regional Airport, which is seven miles away.

The Rapid City Journal reported not many details were available, but Delta issued a statement that it “has contacted the customers of this flight and offered a gesture of apology for the inconvenience.”

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The air base, which is home to a large part of the nation’s B-1 bomber fleet, issued a statement through 1st Lt. Rachel Allison.

“Base officials followed the proper procedures to address the situation and ensure the safety of our airmen, their families, and the passengers. The aircraft departed for Rapid City Regional Airport later that night.”

The newspaper spoke with a passenger from Flight 2845, who said “she and her fellow passengers waited about 2.5 hours in the plane at Ellsworth, from about 8:45 until about 11:15, where they were ordered to pull down their window shades as military personnel walked through the cabin with at least one firearm and a dog.”

The newspaper reported family members awaiting their loved ones at the municipal airport were concerned but eventually were reassured because officials allowed the passengers access to cell-phone networks to contact their families.

It’s not the first instance of a commercial jet going awry in the American West.

Back in 1979, Western Airlines pilot Lowell Ferguson took off from Denver carrying 94 passengers to Sheridan, Wyoming.

He landed at the tiny, unattended runway at Buffalo, Wyoming, which is just on the other side of a mountain from Sheridan.

He later was honored by the town with an annual Lowell Ferguson Days for the attention he brought the tiny hamlet.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time called Buffalo a “snoozing mountain community of 4,200 and somewhat hungry for a local character and charisma since a posse chased Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid out of the area.”

On the first anniversary, Ferguson, on the advice of a lawyer for the Airline Pilots Association, did not attend, but the second year he did.

Ferguson said then: “It was a serious business and I can’t make light of it. I made a visual confirmation (of a crew member’s sighting of Buffalo’s airport as Sheridan’s airport) and I was wrong. As pilot in command, it was my ultimate responsibility.”

He went through a refresher flying course and his license was suspended for two months. But, in his defense, it was his first flight along the route in the wilderness of Wyoming, and the runways are on a nearly identical compass heading.

The report said: “There had been no injuries, not even a stubbed toe among passengers who eventually were bused to Sheridan. The aircraft (50 tons), despite stubbing its toe by sinking the nosewheel into a turnaround pad, was not damaged and was flown out the following day.”

There was no immediate word from the airline, the airport, the Air Force or the Federal Aviation Administration on the Delta crew and what the ramifications would be.

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