Questions remain after Southwest plane lands at wrong airport

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A Southwest Airlines plane with more than 125 people onboard landed at the wrong airport Sunday.

The flight from Chicago landed unexpectedly Sunday night at a tiny airport near Branson, Missouri.

"We came in sideways in the air and you could feel like something was wrong but we just thought it was maybe turbulence," said one passenger.

There were some tense moments Sunday night when Southwest flight 4013 left Chicago's Midway airport and was scheduled to stop in Branson, Missouri. Instead, the Boeing 737 carrying 124 passengers and five crew members, touched down at the Clark-Taney County Airport about eight miles away on a runway that was roughly half the length of the landing strip in Branson.

"We hit the runway really hard and really fast. We stopped and then all of a sudden you just smelled rubber, really strong," said a passenger.

The plane stopped less than 500 feet from the end of the runway, just before a 30 foot drop to a highway.

"Honestly we owe our lives to the pilot because he stopped it on a runway where we would have ended up in a freeway," said another passenger.

No one was injured. While there's no official explanation for why the plane landed at the wrong airport, experts say this type of mistake is rare.

"It is not at all common to have an airliner land at an airport other than its intended destination," said Capt. John Cox, NBC aviation analyst.

But Sunday's event was the second time in less than two months that a large jet has landed at the wrong airport.

In November, a freight-carrying Boeing 747 that was supposed to deliver parts to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., landed 9 miles north at Col. James Jabara Airport. The company that operated the flight later said in a training video that the crew was skeptical about the plane's automation after the co-pilot's flight display had intermittent trouble, and the pilot chose to fly visually when he spotted the brightly lit runway at Jabara.

Last year, a cargo plane bound for MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Fla., landed without incident at the small Peter O. Knight Airport nearby. An investigation blamed confusion identifying airports in the area, and base officials introduced an updated landing procedure.

The airline announced last month that it would end service in June in Branson, Key West, Fla., and Jackson, Miss., because it can't make money in those smaller markets.

Late Sunday, passengers were brought by bus to the correct airport, and Southwest brought in another aircraft for those traveling onto other destinations.