Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

FAA investigating Southwest Airlines flight that buzzed Yukon

Southwest+Boeing+737-800+at+Indianapolis+International+Airport+in+May+2020%2F%0AJohn+Giambone
Southwest Boeing 737-800 at Indianapolis International Airport in May 2020/ John Giambone

WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating an aborted landing after a Southwest Airlines flight buzzed Yukon early Wednesday morning.

Flight 4069 descended to roughly 400 feet before the FAA said its air traffic controllers intervened after being alerted by the Minimum Safe Altitude Warning System, which ensures that aircraft do not descend below a predetermined safe altitude.

Despite being about nine miles from Will Rogers World Airport, flight logs show the aircraft steadily descended to its lowest altitude just over Yukon High School before controllers acted. This followed a clearance for a visual approach to land on runway 13, which diagonally crosses one of the airport’s main north-south runways.

Flight Logs show SWA4069 descending to dangerous altitudes more than nine miles from the runway/Google Earth

In “congested areas” like cities and towns, the minimum safe altitude is 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

“Southwest 4069, low altitude alert. You good out there?” the air traffic controller asked, according to a recording from LiveATC.net. “Yeah we’ll go around, 4069,” the pilot responded.

Controllers then asked the crew to climb back to 3,000 feet and begin a turn to the south.

Flight logs show the aircraft slowing to just 150 miles per hour, or 130 knots while over Yukon. A typical landing speed for the Boeing 737-800 is around 147 knots, according to a EuroControl Document.

The aircraft then quickly regained altitude and circled for a safe landing on runway 17 Right.

“The FAA is investigating the incident,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Gaylord News. The FAA did not release additional details.

Las Vegas to Oklahoma City is a frequent route flown by Southwest, with multiple flights per week. Other flights following the route do not dip below altitudes of 500 feet until reaching at least two miles from the runway.

Additionally, FAA approach procedures obtained by Gaylord News shows the aircraft should not have reached such low altitudes until about 1.6 miles, or 1.4 nautical miles, of the runway.

The aircraft, numbered N8555Z, remains in regular operation since the incident, indicating no mechanical discrepancies as it flew on schedule hours later.

“Southwest is following its robust safety management system and is in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration to understand and address any irregularities with the aircraft’s approach to the airport,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Nothing is more important to Southwest than the safety of our customers and employees.”

Reports also show favorable weather conditions of light winds at 11 knots, with 10 mile visibility and few clouds at 6,000 feet, lessening the likelihood that the incident was weather-related.

According to the Aeronautical Information Manual, when performing a visual approach pilots must “advise ATC immediately if [they] need to climb or lose sight of the airport.”

During the aircraft’s descent, ATC is not heard in the recording responding to any pilot directive of needing to climb or losing sight of the airport.

The incident comes after the FAA announced an investigation into another Southwest Airlines flight to Hawaii that plunged within 400 feet of the ocean in April. The Boeing 737-MAX 8 dropped at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute before pilots recovered the plane.

 

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories by Gaylord News go to GaylordNews.net.

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