Steamboat Springs The pilot of TWA flight 641, which landed in Craig instead of Hayden this week, should have been able to look at his instruments and determine that he was still 17 miles from the runway at Yampa Valley Regional Airport when he made his final approach into the wrong airport.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport manager Jim Parker said Friday that instruments located on top of a mountain known as the Cog, outside Hayden, include a distance measuring device that lets pilots in the area know how far they are from that mountain.
The antennas at the instrument site are visible from the airport.
The TWA MD-80 with 117 passengers and six crew members aboard landed at the general aviation airport in Craig at about 2 p.m. Wednesday, instead of at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which is about 20 miles west of Steamboat Springs.
Everyone on board was safe, but the plane's landing gear went off the runway and the plane became stuck. The passengers were driven first to YVRA, and later to Steamboat.
The plane, flown by another crew, successfully flew out of Craig at about 2 p.m. Thursday without incident and landed at YVRA.
It took on more fuel before being flown to Kansas City, Parker said.
TWA officials did not return phone calls on Friday, but Parker confirmed that the airline continued to fly its regularly scheduled daily flights from Atlanta, via St. Louis, into YVRA this week.
The abbreviated name for the instruments located atop the Cog is VOR/DME. Parker said VOR stands for "very high frequency omnidirectional range." The instruments allow airline pilots to establish their position with flight controllers at the Denver Center and get assigned to a vector that amounts to a "highway in the sky" that leads to their destination.
The initials DME stand for "distance measuring device." Parker said he's not in a position to speculate about what went on in the cockpit of the MD-80. However, if the pilot's cockpit instruments were working, he should have been able to determine his distance from the runway at YVRA.
Other instrumnents at the airport known as AWOS, or automated weather observation system, were also functioning and feeding data about wind direction and speed, ground visibility and altimeter readings, Parker said.
Parker said airport officials had only a couple of bad moments Wednesday when they they couldn't account for whereabouts of the TWA jet.
The staff knew that weather on the ground was bad, Parker said. Airport public safety director Tyler Whitmore was manning the radio called "unicom" and was in voice contact with the TWA pilot. The pilot called to say he was "outbound" meaning he was heading away from the airport to the west.
The oval shaped holding pattern at YVRA is south and west of the runway.
At one point the TWA pilot announced that he was a "minute out," but he didn't appear on the runway and within several more minutes a Continental jet landed at YVRA.
Blaine Tucker, the fixed based operator at Craig, called so promptly to announce the unexpected arrival of the jet, that there wasn't much time to become seriously concerned about the TWA jet, Parker said.
Some information points to the possibility that the pilot of the TWA jet continued to believe he had landed at YVRA even after he'd come to a stop in Craig. Parker explained that even though planes arriving at YVRA have gone off Denver radar once they have descended below 13,000 feet, they still must receive verbal permission from Denver Center to land. That permission is never given until preceding flights call in to say they have cleared the runway.
That means that the Continental jet never would have landed unless the TWA pilot had called in to say he had cleared the runway in Hayden. Parker said Whitmore never heard such a radio transmission, but the pilot of the Continental jet told Whitmore he had heard it.
Parker said Whitmore has been interviewed by FAA officials and the FAA has taken possession of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the TWA jet.