WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A flight from Charlotte to Wilmington is typically an easy trip. But not for a plane load of travelers last night. Their flight was diverted to Myrtle Beach.
“When I talked to the controller that gave me the briefing, I asked them if they are closed now and he did say that they are closed,” a recording from air traffic control said.
With those words from air traffic control, hundreds of passengers on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte ended up at a completely different airport.
“That’s when the captain came on and said, ‘Well, alright folks. We’re not going to Wilmington tonight. We’re actually going to Myrtle Beach,’ and there was a pause, and we all thought he was kind of joking,” passenger Kate Cherry said.
Gary Broughton with Wilmington International Airport says it was a communication error between the FAA air traffic controller for ILM and the Washington communication center. Broughton said the air traffic controller told the communication center Wilmington International Airport was closed after 11 p.m., when in fact it was not.
“When the tower controller called Washington, he told them 11:00. So it was simply a miscommunication. Therefore the Washington center could not grant clearance for the American Airlines flight to land in Wilmington causing them to divert to Myrtle Beach,” Broughton said.
And some customers, like Kate Cherry, were far from being on cloud nine.
“We were enraged. We were very angry. I mean this is 1:00 in the morning at this point. We were exhausted, tired. Yeah, we were enraged really,” Cherry said.
Broughton says Wilmington International Airport had no role in what happened. And both the FAA and American Airlines confirmed it was a communication error on their end.
American Airlines released a statement saying, “On July 10, American Airlines flight 1999, from Charlotte to Wilmington, N.C., diverted to Myrtle Beach, S.C. after a miscommunication with the FAA regarding the operating hours of the airport. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and are working with the FAA to ensure a similar diversion does not occur in the future.”
The FAA also released a statement saying, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating why American Airlines 1999, an Airbus A319 aircraft, landed at Myrtle Beach International Airport at 11:30 p.m. on July 10. The flight departed from Charlotte Douglas International Airport and was destined for Wilmington International Airport in North Carolina. The FAA Air Traffic Control Tower at Wilmington closes at 11 p.m., however, the airport remains open and flights may land after the tower closes. The American Airlines crew apparently was told that Wilmington Airport was closed when it was not.”