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With Runway Lights Off, Pilot Skips Planned Landing In Texas

DALLAS — A passenger plane trying to land at a Texas airport turned back when the pilot discovered that the runway lights had been switched off.

American Eagle Flight 2536 was scheduled to fly about 125 miles from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Wichita Falls, Texas, on Sunday night. The plane left nearly a half-hour late, and when it got to Wichita Falls, the pilot told passengers that the runway lights were turned off and there was nobody at the airport to turn them on, according to officials in the city of 100,000 people.

Wichita Falls officials first said that the Eagle pilot had the wrong radio frequency to turn on the lights on the main, 13,000-foot runway. Like many other small airports where control towers are not staffed around the clock, pilots in Wichita Falls can operate the runway lights with their radio system.

But on Tuesday, city aviation director John Burrus said that Sheppard Air Force Base, which shares the facility, had closed the runway and turned off the lights. Burrus said Sheppard notified pilots of the closure. He added that the American Eagle jet could have landed on an adjacent, 10,000-foot runway that was lit.

A spokesman for ExpressJet, a regional carrier that operated the flight under contract with American Airlines, said late Tuesday that the airline was still trying to determine what happened.

“The pilot attempted to activate the lights, but he couldn’t do so,” said Jarek Beem, the ExpressJet spokesman. He said he didn’t know why the pilot didn’t land on the shorter runway. “We’re still reviewing the entire incident.”

Beem said the pilot circled Wichita Falls for about 30 minutes before giving up and turning back to DFW. The plane, with 45 passengers, made an otherwise uneventful midnight landing at DFW after a one hour, 40-minute flight, according to tracking service FlightAware.com. (AP)