Jackson airport mystery: Were runway lights on or off?

Last week, two planes that flew to Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport were rerouted back to their originating airports as they were descending. According to one of the airlines, the runway lights in Jackson were off.

Officials at the Jackson airport dispute that claim.

“All of the lights were fully functional,” said Bonnie Wilson, chief administrative officer of the airport.

American Airlines Flight 5333 left Charlotte, North Carolina, at 12:26 a.m. EDT June 28, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. It was diverted back at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, landing at 2:58 a.m. EDT.

Landon Kelly, of Hoboken, New Jersey, was on oard the American Airlines flight. Kelly said he dozed off mid-flight but awoke to the pilot saying the flight was diverting back to Charlotte because the lights on the runway were off.

When he heard the pilot’s announcement, Kelly thought it was a “practical joke.”

“I thought it was a joke, but that was absolutely the truth,” Kelly said. “We turned around and went to Charlotte.”

Wilson said American Airlines contacted the airport to report the problem. Maintenance crews immediately went to the runway, Wilson said, but found the lights in working order. Crews were then sent to the tower to check internal systems.

“We had absolutely no interruption in service,” she said.

The American Airlines media relations team said, via email, “The pilot was in contact with the FAA’s Memphis Center, who stated the lights were out of service. They also stated that other aircraft were having similar issues.”

American Airlines referred other questions to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA said it did not receive reports of problems with flight landing at the Jackson airport.

In an official statement, the agency said, “The FAA will be looking into the diversion of both flights.”

Mesa Air Group Flight 5629 was also diverted. According to FlightAware, the flight left Dallas at 12:12 a.m., Tuesday, June 28. The flight pattern shows the plane flying to Jackson then turning around and heading back to Dallas. It landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport at 12:53 a.m.

Mesa Air Group, which provides regional service for both American Airlines and United Airlines, did not return requests for comment.

Kelly and the other passengers on Flight 5333 slept at the Charlotte airport that night. He caught another flight to Jackson later that day. He also filed a complaint with the FAA, citing safety as a concern.

“I have flown thousands of flights, and I have never seen that,” he said.