Revisiting Another Wrong Runway Landing

Learjet 55 wrong runway landing

The Learjet 55 after a wrong runway landing at Clark Regional Airport in Indiana.

Credit: NTSB

Four months after a Learjet 60 landed on the wrong runway at Chicago Executive Airport, another Learjet, this one a Model 55, did the same thing at Clark Regional Airport (JVY), in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The crew of N559RA intended to land on the 7,000-ft Runway 36 but instead landed on Runway 32, which was only 3,899 ft long. 

The accident took place at 19:05 on the evening of Feb. 18, 2021. The flight, which was a Part 135 on-demand cargo mission, was operated by Royal Air Freight. It departed from Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), in Fort Myers, Florida, and arrived in the Louisville, Kentucky area just after dark had fallen. The destination—Clark Regional Airport—was a non-towered airport located just 9 nm north of Louisville Muhammed Ali International Airport (SDF). 

The flight operated normally until it approached JVY. The captain told NTSB accident investigators that the crew had planned to fly the ILS approach to Runway 18. He and the copilot, who was the pilot flying, briefed the approach and set it up. They expected to break out of the lowest ceiling, then circle to Runway 36 to land into the wind. The winds at the time were 330 deg. at 3 kt., according to the NTSB.

Runway Lights
The pilots approached the airport from the southeast and broke out of the overcast at 5,000 ft MSL. The captain attempted to call the unicom to get an airport advisory but got no reply. At that point, he clicked the microphone five times for pilot-controlled lighting, and the copilot immediately saw the lights activate. Shortly thereafter, the captain also spotted the lights. The visibility was 10 mi. 

The captain reported to Louisville Approach Control that he had the airport in sight at 10 o’clock. Approach control cleared the crew for a visual approach. Assuming the lighted runway ahead was Runway 36, they proceeded inbound, with the copilot continuing to fly the jet. Neither pilot attempted to verify that the final approach course was aligned with the planned runway.

The crew configured the aircraft for landing and ran the before-landing checklist. The only runway lights they saw were the ones in front of them, and the runway gave the appearance of a longer runway than it was because it was only 75 ft. wide. There was no illuminated “X” or other marking to indicate the runway was closed. The surface was covered with about 4 in. of snow.

After touchdown, the crew deployed reverse thrust and brakes before hitting the snow berm at the intersection of Runways 32 and 36. The impact with the berm sheared off the landing gear. The jet remained on centerline before sliding off the end of the runway, stopping about 150 ft. beyond the runway end. The crew shut down the jet and the two pilots exited without injury.

The airport manager told investigators that the Runway 32 lights were on because workers were in the process of plowing the snow and needed the lights to identify the runway edges. Snowplow operators left the lights on while they took a dinner break and there were no plows left on the runway.

Runway 32 was closed at the time of the accident and a NOTAM had been issued to that effect. The closure was also added to the airport AWOS recording. The captain told NTSB investigators that both pilots were aware that Runway 32 was closed. The lights for Runway 36 were on but likely were blocked from the crew’s view by a snow berm along the side of that runway.

The NTSB’s limited investigation did not secure the airplane’s cockpit voice recorder and did not attempt to assess the dynamics of the crew’s interactions. One factor that might have contributed to poor crew communication was the difference in the two pilots’ ages and experience levels. The captain was 68 and the copilot was 30. The captain reported 18,800 flight hours; the copilot had 1,925. The captain had 3,696 hours on type; the copilot 1,136.

Unlike the wrong runway event at Chicago four months earlier, the two pilots seemed to have no conflicts or miscommunications. As the pilot flying, the copilot may have simply trusted that the experienced captain would do a good job as the pilot monitoring and relaxed his vigilance.

The role of the pilot monitoring has been the subject of much discussion, especially among air carriers, since it was introduced. Exactly what is the PM monitoring when he or she assumes that role? The FAA and the NTSB have given plenty of guidance on the subject, but it’s still up to the operator to provide policy and training.

When the FAA stopped using the term “pilot not flying” and started using the term “pilot monitoring,” the idea was to eliminate passivity and endow the second pilot with a job to do. FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 120-71A, Standard Operating Procedures, issued in 2003, addressed pilot monitoring duties in Appendix 19. AC 120-51E, Crew Resource Management Training, issued in 2004, further developed the importance of monitoring. 

The NTSB has mentioned the term “pilot monitoring” in 47 cases in its database. It has mentioned the phrase 53 times in safety recommendations going all the way back to 1994. However, the subject was not part of this accident’s probable cause finding. The NTSB cited “the flight crew’s failure to verify the correct runway for landing, which resulted in a landing on a snow contaminated runway and resulting damage to the airplane. The illumination of the lights associated with the closed runway contributed to the accident.”

An official from Royal Air Freight informed the NTSB that the airline was preparing guidance for crews and would emphasize alertness and awareness. The official did not mention adding “heading” in the before-landing checklist, requiring use of instrument approaches with glideslopes during night approaches or the importance of pilot monitoring duties.

Pilot-in-command time does not necessarily make you a good PM, as I think this accident shows. If you are not monitoring the airplane’s heading, what is it that you are monitoring? That needs to be clarified by operators and made part of training.

We’ll consider a third off-runway landing in the third part of this series, an accident in which monitoring the aircraft’s heading did not help. 

Parsing A Runway Excursion At Chicago Executive:…

Roger Cox

A former military, corporate and airline pilot, Roger Cox was also a senior investigator at the NTSB. He writes about aviation safety issues.


Excellent description and useful evaluation. Thanks you for this.
Excellent description and useful evaluation. Thanks you for this.
Excellent description and useful evaluation. Thanks you for this.
Excellent description and useful evaluation. Thanks you for this.
Excellent description and useful evaluation. Thanks you for this.
Excellent description and useful evaluation. Thanks you for this.
Night operations are challenging and this discussion demonstrates how easy it is for even experienced crews to make a critical wrong surface error. I was just discussing the KPLK event where a B737 crew landed at the wrong airport on a very short night. SOP's and cockpit discipline will help solve these issues, along with using technology to always build and fly an approach to the runway, even if it is a simple VFR approach.
Seeiing what you want to see IS human factor/behaviour….and an illuminated closed runway helps achieving this.