Pilot misses mark by 17 miles

TWA investigating whether airplane pilot was 'confused'

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Heavy snow, fast winds and a little confusion on the part of the pilot caused a TransWorld Airlines flight to land 17 miles off its mark Wednesday afternoon.

TWA flight 641, carrying 117 passengers heading for the Steamboat Springs ski area, was aiming for the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and landed at the Craig/ Moffat Airport.

During its taxi to the terminal, the plane slid off the runway and its right landing gear lodged in the mud.

"When we landed, we hit pretty hard and he geared it back really hard," passenger Danny Akin said. "When he turned he got stuck in the mud."

No one was injured, but members of the Craig/Rural Fire Rescue, the Craig Police Department, the Moffat County Sheriff's Department and The Memorial Hospital Ambulance Crew were on hand to meet the plane.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport does not have a control tower planes bound for the airport are on Denver radar, but disappear from that radar when they descend below a certain elevation. They make contact with airport personnel on the ground, who can confirm they runways are clear.

At the time of the plane's landing, the wind was approximately 6 knots and the visibility was less than 10 miles.

TWA and the Federal Aviation Administration are both investigating the incident. The reason for the unscheduled landing has not be determined.

The Craig/Moffat Airport is not built to land large planes. Moffat County Sheriff's Sgt. Rick Holford said this is the first time a plane of this size has landed in Craig. The plane weighs nearly 130,000 pounds.

Craig's runway is 100-feet wide and 5,600 feet long, while the runway at the Hayden airport is 150-feet wide and 10,000-feet long.

The plane's passengers were bussed to Hayden and Steamboat Springs.

The plane has since been bought back onto the tarmac, and left for Hayden at 1 p.m. today.

The plane carried no passengers. Its engines were running all night to burn as much fuel as possible, to reduce the plane's weight for take-off, Holford said.

"The plane needs about 4,500 to 5,000 feet to take off. Apparently, they can get it off," Holford said. "I'm glad I'm not the pilot that has to do that."

A crew was brought in from Hayden today to fly the plane into Hayden where it will refuel. (Steamboat Spring Pilot/Today reporter Tom Ross contributed to this story.)

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