A Massive Airplane Mistakenly Landed at A Tiny Wyoming Airport
We all want to be remembered for something. Hopefully something great. For pilot Lowell Ferguson, it's an embarrassing mistake. But at least in the end he embraced the teasing.
Pilot, Lowell Ferguson realized his mistake moments before touchdown. Obviously this runway was too short.
If he had gone any farther he might have run off the hill at the end and sent the plane tumbling way, way down.
July 1979. Pilot in command Ferguson was on a simple hop from Casper to Sheridan County Airport.
Between the two towns is the much smaller town of Buffalo, Wyoming. It has a tiny county airport that sits up high on a hill over the town.
The main runway at Casper is 10165 feet long by 150 feet wide.
At Sheridan the longest runway is 8301 feet long by 100 feet wide.
Buffalo, however was under 5000 feet long by 75 feet wide at that time. That short runway in Buffalo is pushing the limits of the 737.
The plane landed, hard but safely, on what was called the Buffalo Airport runway at that time. It is now the Johnson County Airport.
The plane juddered to a stop, and Western Airlines pilot Lowell Ferguson said, “I think we have a flat tire.” (Buffalo Bulletin).
The plane had used up every inch of runway. Good thing it stopped where it did. It was nothing but sharply downhill after that.
The pilot had braked so hard the Boeing 737 tore the asphalt to shreds. Also, the runway in Buffalo is not built to handle such a big plane. It's too much weight. The tires had sunk into the asphalt.
The flight from Casper to Sheridan can be done by just visual cues, just as a driver does. But that airport in the middle sometimes confuses pilots. Is that Sheridan? No, Buffalo. Sheridan is just another couple of minutes north.
The 94 passengers began to chatter quietly, realizing the mistake. Embarrassed, pilot Ferguson went back to talk to them and helped pour drinks.
“I just told the stewardesses to pour out the champagne, and everybody will be happy,” Ferguson said. (Buffalo Bulletin).
So how does one get a big plane like that off such a small runway? You don't. Not enough runway and the wheels are sunk into the pavement.
The passengers were bussed to Sheridan. Pilot Ferguson, tried to stay with the plane but his crew was having none of it.
Don't give our pilot such a hard time. According to the Associated Press, between 1990 and 2014, 150 such incidents occurred across America. We've all made a wrong turn in our car. It can happen to pilots too.
Townspeople gathered at the Buffalo Airport to watch the wheels get dug out.
Jewelry store owner Fritz Purcell wandered Main Street in a pilot’s uniform, wearing a sign that read “I thought I was landing at Kennedy International!."
Clothing store proprietor Coley Powell sold over 300 Lowell Ferguson-branded T-shirts in the first month. The Buffalo Bulletin ran a poem titled “Whoa, Dammit, Whoa,” in which Bob Peterson proclaimed that the landing was now the most significant moment in Buffalo history. (Buffalo Bulletin).
The spectacular landing had put little Buffalo Wyoming on the news. “Good Morning America” and news anchor Walter Cronkite spoke of it.
Even Johnny Carson joked on The Tonight Show, “Everyone in those parts knows that the weather vane on the feed store at Buffalo is 4 inches taller than the weather vane on the feed store at Sheridan,”
Poor pilot Ferguson just could not live down this embarrassing mistake.
On the 1 year anniversary of the landing that had the entire nation talking about Buffalo Wyoming, the city held a “Lowell Ferguson Day” in celebration. They even invited Pilot Ferguson to join the fun.
Western Airlines, however, was not amused. They had temporarily demoted Ferguson because of what had happened.
You have got to hand it to the people of Buffalo. They have a great sense of humor.
One year later they tried to hold another party on the anniversary of the landing. Because they thought they could not get pilot Lowell Ferguson, the town put out a nationwide call for any person by that name.
Six Lowell Fergusons showed up, including our hero - PILOT FERGUSON! He even brought his wife and two children to the celebration. He walked around town surrounded by “I Am Lowell Ferguson” shirts.
Ferguson got old and died many years ago.
That runway he tour up was repaired and extended.
The legend of Western Airlines Flight 44 is still talked about by people in Wyoming.