Wrong airport: what’s the big deal?
Date posted: January 15, 2014
Sheridan High School’s “We, the People” team won the Wyoming state championship in Cheyenne Monday at the state capitol. The team is led by SHS educator Tyson Emborg. Sheridan’s victory broke a four-year run by Cheyenne Central.
They’re off to Washington, D.C., next for the national competition in April.
One of the big stories Monday night on the evening news was how a Southwest Airlines 737 landed at the wrong airport. The aircraft landed at a business-centric airport seven miles from intended arrival in Branson, Mo. No one was injured and there was no damage to the plane. The plane’s captain had been flying for Southwest for 15 years.
(I’m thinking that there were several grateful husbands on board who missed the ABBA Tribute, or the Yakov Smirnoff dinner show.)
Of course, that honest mistake in aviation reminds of another honest mistake in aviation that many people around here recall.
Western Airlines flight 44 from Los Angeles to Sheridan via Denver, via Billings (and several other stops), landed in nearby Buffalo by mistake on July 31, 1979. James Bastiani flew the aircraft, but Lowell Ferguson was the captain and caught the heat. It touched down around 10 p.m. Too, there were no injuries to the 90-plus passengers who were bussed over to Sheridan, no injury to the aircraft, but there was some tarmac damage because of the plane’s weight.
Longtime publisher friend Jim Hicks of Buffalo went out to the airport that night and reported on the events and greeted the pilots. Later that year, Ferguson had his Airline Transport Pilot certificate suspended for 60 days by the FAA and he almost lost his job with Western.
Hicks, always Buffalo’s cheerleader and all around good guy, got up a petition among residents which was sent to the now-defunct Western home office in Denver saying how Ferguson had “put Buffalo on the map.” Sort of a “no harm, no foul” sense of charity.
In fact, people at the Buffalo Chamber and the Bulletin got their heads together and sponsored “Lowell Ferguson Days” with a parade and a big community picnic in the park. For a while, Ferguson wouldn’t attend, citing the embarrassment via Western. So, a national call went out to any and all Lowell Fergusons. Seven showed up.
Eventually, the “real” Lowell Ferguson made an appearance and was celebrated. It remains one of the best examples of making lemonade out of lemons.
The national publicity for Buffalo was priceless. The incident eventually prompted a suspension for Ferguson, some lawyers got involved, and later it was determined to be a “landmark aviation ruling,” ala, ‘Ferguson v NTSB’ in 1982. Ferguson was eventually reinstated as a captain.
“It was a beautiful, clear summer night,” Hicks recalled Tuesday afternoon. “A lady called and said there was a big ‘W’ parked at the airport. I said it was a big Winnebago.”
Hicks, now a Johnson County commissioner, added, “We (Buffalo) milked it for the publicity value. It was fun. Lowell Ferguson was always gracious about it. A nice guy who was always welcomed here.”