When Southland Field built it’s new state of the art T-Hangar here this past summer, it wanted to attract larger planes to the airport. Officials never envisioned having a Continental Connection plane land here though.
Colgan Flight 3222, a Continental Connection flight bound from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Lake Charles Regional Airport, mistakenly landed at the much smaller Southland Field — a freak occurrence that has happened at least two other times in the last 20 years. According to Sam Larsh, Southland Field Airport Manager, it happened twice in the mid 1990s.
“This is the third time it’s happened,” Larsh said. “An airline pilot is flying by an instrument flight plan and they are supposed to land on runway 15 in Lake Charles. On a crystal clear night like last night (Wednesday), it’s the first runway lights they come upon after being in pitch black between Houston and here.
“It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s one they probably should never make,” Larsh continued. “It’s only eight miles from our airport to Lake Charles Regional with virtually the same coordinates.”
Joe Williams, Director of Corporate Communications with Pinnacle Airlines Corp., released a statement Thursday afternoon.
“Colgan Flight 3222 from Houston to Lake Charles, landed safely at Southland Field Airport last (Wednesday) night. Southland Field is approximately eight nautical miles west of Lake Charles. At no time was passenger safety in question. The crew had visual contact with the field and was cleared by air traffic control for a visual approach. The plane with 23 passengers and a crew of three landed safely at 10:21 p.m. central time. Passengers were transported to Lake Charles and will be accommodated on other flights. Per standard procedure, the crew is relieved of duty pending an investigation,” Williams said.
David Haegele, his wife and four kids — all residents of Lake Charles — were aboard the flight. The Haegele family was returning from Orlando to Lake Charles and were completely shocked when they learned they were in Carlyss instead of Lake Charles.
“After we landed, we were told we couldn’t get off the plane right away, but we really didn’t know why,” Haegele said. “They told us we couldn’t get off until police showed up, which I understand is standard procedure.
“We sat there for about an hour and a half,” Haegele continued. “I didn’t know where we were. I assumed we were in Lake Charles. It was pitch black out there, so you couldn’t see a thing. My first thought when I heard we had landed in Sulphur was that there must have been some guy out there with a flashlight directing us.”
According to Haegele, the pilot and co-pilot finally alerted the passengers as to what was going on and they actually unloaded the luggage for the passengers.
Page 2 of 2 - “A few limousines and a van showed up and they told us they were going to transport us to Lake Charles unless we could find our own ride,” Haegele said. “We piled my family into a packed limo and made it to the Lake Charles airport some time around 12:40 a.m. I think the most frustrating part is that we didn’t know we landed at the wrong airport all that time we sat on the plane. It’s also sort of scary to know that can happen. But ... thank God we’re all fine and made it home.”
According to Larsh, the last employee at Southland Field leaves for the day at 8 p.m., so the airport was completely empty. Continental Airlines called Larsh at 11:30 p.m. to make him aware of the situation.
The plane remained at Southland Field until a different flight crew can transport it. The plane was still at Southland Field as of 9 a.m. Thursday.