Local News

Raleigh Doctor Recounts Plane Landing At Wrong S.D. Airport

Posted June 24, 2004

— A Raleigh doctor's quick trip to South Dakota turned into an ordeal that involved the Air Force.

Dr. Robert Morrell is back at work in Raleigh, but he had an interesting flight over the weekend. Morrell said his Northwest Airlines flight landed around noon Saturday in South Dakota, but he said things just did not seem quite right.

"There weren't any of the traditional markings you see at traditional airports," he said.

The pilot quickly realized there had been a mistake.

"They thought they were landing at Rapid City Regional and when they got on the ground, they realized they weren't at Rapid City Regional," Lt. Christine Millette said.

At a time when security is extremely high at military sites, they landed unannounced at Ellsworth Air Force Base, about seven miles from the commercial airport.

"I really didn't feel any sense of danger. My first thought was, 'Oh, the poor guy went to the wrong place,'" Morrell said.

The Air Force did not know if the plane was a threat. For more than three hours, military officials questioned the crew. Passengers had to stay onboard the whole time with the shades lowered -- an order given by the Air Force.

"People kept their cool. No one got overly agitated," Morrell said.

Another pilot ended up flying the plane to the right place. Both of the original pilots have been suspended while the Federal Aviation Administration investigates.

Northwest Airlines has promised to give all the passengers a round-trip ticket for the inconvenience. Morrell said, so far, he has received a $100 voucher.

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