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Runway Lights Out Go Out Without Warning, Planes to Turn Back


When the runway lights at the Wilmington, N.C., airport were shut off without warning, two commercial flights were left scrambling for a place to land.

Two commercial flights bound for North Carolina’s Wilmington International Airport (ILM) — a Delta Air Lines flight originating from Atlanta (ATL) and a US Airways flight originating from Charlotte (CTL) — were forced to turn around when the airport’s runway lights and guidance systems were turned off without any warning late Wednesday evening.

The Star News in Wilmington reports that FAA officials in Atlanta were responsible for getting the lights back on early Thursday morning. ILM had been scheduled to close for runway work early Thursday morning, but the guidance systems were mistakenly taken offline one hour early.

“The airport’s guidance system was supposed to go off at 12:15 a.m., but they turned them off at 11:15 p.m.,” ILM’s director of operations, Gary Broughton, told the Star News. “It was just one of those things. It was a freak accident.”

The landing systems were restored and the airport reopened as soon as officials realized their mistake. By then, however, both the US Airways and the Delta flights had turned back for home.

Air traffic control recordings obtained by ABC News show that the blackout created some tense moments for pilots. One pilot can be heard saying, “We couldn’t even see the approach. No navigation at all.” Another pilot warned matter-of-factly, “The airport lights are not on; they actually flipped the switch early.”

[Photo: iStock]

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RoyalFlush September 27, 2014

Scrambling to find a place to land? Isn't there always a diversion airport or two listed before a commercial airliner is dispatched? I'm sure the pilots were fairly calm during this.