Massive military plane lands at wrong airport in Tampa

12:33 AM, Jul 21, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - The U.S. Air Force has yet to explain how a massive C-17 military cargo plane ended up landing at the wrong airport Friday. 

Photo Gallery: Air Force plane lands at Peter O. Knight

The plane bound for MacDill Air Force Base on the southern tip of Tampa accidentally landed at the tiny Peter O. Knight Airport in the middle of homes on Davis Islands.

Peter O. Knight is approximately four miles north of MacDill but significantly smaller in size.

Witnesses and nearby homeowners near the airport, when the plane landed, say they could hardly believe their eyes and feared the aircraft may crash through the end of the small runway and end up in Tampa Bay.

"Two words: one starts with O and one starts with S," said Don Sipila, who guesses that's what was going through the pilot's mind moments after his C-17 touched down on the wrong runway.

"It was extremely loud, the wings were wavering a little bit because he was doing a curving type of thing. You could clearly see this was a maximum effort short field landing. You don't practice these things," said Sipila.

"We all thought he was going to go off the end. Clearly this was the wrong airport for this aircraft."

Sipila, a pilot himself, suspects the massive cargo plane got clearance to land at MacDill and thought that's where he was landing.

"MacDill is about five miles right off the end of this runway and it has the same number: 22 lined up in the same direction. But it's 11,500 feet long ... as a pilot I could see it's a long runway. This is only 35-hundred feet!"

Finally just before sunset, and after burning off several hours of fuel to lighten the plane's weight, the C-17 returned to the sky, taking off in a massive roar.

Hundreds of area residents gathered along the airport's fence line and cheered the plane's lift off with the same suspense of a space shuttle launch.

The Air Force has not released information on what caused the mix up or what might happen to the flight crew.

Airport officials confirm there didn't seem to be any damage to the runway despite the much heavier than expected load.

The airport was closed much of Friday evening as the C-17 blocked both runways.

Beau Zimmer, 10 News

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