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Landing at wrong airport detailed

The twin-engine plane's pilot says he mistook MacDill for Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands.

Published October 11, 2006

TAMPA - The private twin-engine aircraft wasn't scheduled to fly into MacDill Air Force Base, which plays a central role in the war on terror.

But on the morning of Sept. 28 there it was, coming in for a landing.

Tower operators sent the Piper airplane a radio message that went unanswered. Next, they shone a red spotlight on it, but it didn't stop.

Base security personnel met the pilot and co-pilot on the runway and detained them for questioning until the afternoon.

It appears the pilot erred.

Neil G. Smith, a licensed pilot from Lexington, Ky., confused the base for Peter O. Knight Airport on nearby Davis Islands, said spokesman Air Force 1st Lt. Larry van der Oord. Six miles apart, both facilities are surrounded by water on three sides.

"The pilot was apparently having some type of in-flight problem and after he got it fixed he wanted to land ASAP, and due to lack of situational awareness he didn't realize he was landing here," van der Oord said. "The plane was also searched and nothing was found."

That morning Smith was scheduled to meet an examiner from the Federal Aviation Authority on Davis Islands to take a test for his instructor certification. When Smith flew into MacDill air space instead, his radio was tuned in to the wrong frequency and didn't hear the warning.

The FAA is investigating the incident, spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

If authorities determine Smith violated any regulations, punishment could range from getting a letter of warning to having his license revoked.

Smith isn't the first pilot to confuse the air base for Peter O. Knight. One week in 2004 two planes mistakenly landed at MacDill. Another landed there in 2003, and a few incidents were recorded in 1995.

In 1984, a pilot mistook the base for Tampa International Airport and landed an Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 loaded with passengers.

Security is always a concern at MacDill.

Less than a month ago, two teens in a stolen car allegedly blew through a base guard post as police pursued them. The dash ended when the teens rammed two police patrol cars.

MacDill is home to the U.S. Central Command, which is running the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and the U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation's elite commandos.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or

[Last modified October 11, 2006, 06:12:24]

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