Southwest Airlines plane heading to Branson lands at wrong Missouri airport

(CNN) -- Welcome to Branson, Missouri. Well, maybe not.

A Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago's Midway Airport was scheduled to land at Branson Airport in southwest Missouri on Sunday night. Instead, the Boeing 737-700 touched down at Taney County airport -- about seven miles away, and with a runway significantly shorter.

Authorities have launched an investigation on the mix up. But passengers were relieved the error didn't lead to something more serious.

The Taney County airport doesn't normally handle big jets. Its runway is about half the length of the Branson airport -- 3,738 feet compared to 7,140 feet.

That required the pilot to do a lot of heavy braking as soon as the Boeing 737-700 touched down.

Without the firm foot on the brakes, the plane could have overshot the end of the runway, tumbled down an embankment and onto U.S. 65.

"Really happy (the) pilot applied brakes the way he did," said Scott Schieffer, one of 124 passengers aboard Flight 4013. "Who knows what would have happened?"

The plane stopped about 300 feet from the end of the runway, according to Jeff Bourk, the executive director at Branson airport.

An announcement, an apology

When the flight landed, Schieffer recalled the pilot coming on the intercom and saying, "Welcome to Branson."

A few minutes later, he apologized.

"I'm sorry ladies and gentleman, we have landed at the wrong airport," the pilot said, according to Scheiffer.

Kevin Riley, who lives near the airport, said he was sitting in his living room when he heard the flight landing.

"I thought it was a military plane because it's so loud," he said. "This airport takes small planes ... nothing to the level or volume of that plane."

Another area resident, Jeffrey Engel, said it surprised him too.

"We're used to hearing Cessna land and take off," he said. "It's a small airport."

The question why

The passengers were bused from the Taney airport to the Branson airport.

Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for the airline, said Sunday night he didn't yet have enough information to say why the plane landed at the wrong location.

"No time line on flying out the aircraft from that other airport. It could happen as early as (Monday) morning," he said.

CNN first learned of the landing error from tweets from the region.

Similar incidents

Sunday night's incident brought to mind another landing at a wrong airport two months earlier.

In November, a mammoth cargo plane landed at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas -- one that typically does not accommodate such beasts and with a runway half a mile shorter than it usually uses.

The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter was bound for McConnell Air Force Base from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. But instead of landing at the military airport on Wichita's southeast side, it landed at the much smaller, general aviation Col. James Jabara Airport on the northeast side.

In August 2012, a regional commuter plane landed at the wrong West Virginia airport.

United Express Flight 4049 operated by Silver Airways was supposed to fly from Morgantown to Clarksburg but landed instead at Fairmont Municipal Airport about 10 miles away.

CNN's Jethro Mullen, Joe Sutton, Dave Alsup and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report

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