Nightly News | January 13, 2014
>>> and a couple of southwest airlines employees are doing a lot of explaining after a southwest 737 from chicago with 124 passengers on board landed at the wrong airport in branson , missouri, miles from the intended airport. the runway they landed on was nearly half the length of the intended location with very little room at the end for error. our report tonight from nbc's john yang .
>> reporter: the southwest 737, 700 took off empty this afternoon from an airport where it was not supposed to be. southwest flight 4013 left chicago 's midway airport at 4:54 sunday afternoon heading for branson , missouri, sources say the pilots were in contact with the branson tower and were cleared to land, that is when things apparently went wrong. on approach, the pilots turned too far to the left and lined up with the wrong runway. clark downtown airport, a small general aviation air field several miles from their destination.
>> we hit the runway really hard and fast and stopped. and then all of a sudden we just smelled rubber, really strong.
>> reporter: sources say the pilots didn't realize their mistake until after they landed and radioed the branson tower.
>> and about five minutes later the pilot came on the p.a. and said ladies and gentlemen i'm sorry to tell you we have landed at the wrong airport.
>> reporter: the two airports are laid out almost the same, but clark's downtown runway is only 3700 feet long, only half the length of branson 's runway. at the end, a steep embankment and the highway below, getting off, the passengers saw how close they were.
>> a local official said son, turn around behind you and look how close you were to the edge of that cliff.
>> reporter: sources say the pilots were not using auto pilot to land and branson doesn't have radar to land, which they say is not uncommon. late today, they put the pilots on paid leave. the ntsb investigators will talk to them this week and already took the plane's black boxes .
>> i would like to know from the crew what they saw and how they came to agree that landing on that runway was the correct thing to do.
>> reporter: southwest refunded the passenger's tickets and gave them $400 towards future flights. john yang , nbc news, chicago .