INCIDENT: Southwest Flight Departs Using Wrong Runway

By Spyros Georgilidakis | June 29, 2024

A Southwest Airlines 737 took off using a runway that was not only closed, it was also occupied by an airport service crew and their vehicle.

This incident happened on Tuesday the 25th of June. It involved Southwest flight WN-4805, which was departing from Portland International Jetport (KPWM). The flight’s destination was Baltimore Washington International (KBWI).

Photo: Werner Lehmann, CC BY-SA 2.0

This is a daily flight, which typically departs Portland very early – before 6 AM. The Southwest flight’s departure timing would have a role on the day of this runway incident. At this time, we don’t know how many passengers and crew were on board the flight.

The Southwest flight crew decided to use runway 29 for their departure from Portland. They lined up and took off, at 5:42 AM – just two minutes past the scheduled departure time. But according to a NOTAM, runway 29 was closed at the time. It was set to open at 5:45 AM – just 3 minutes later.

INCIDENT: Southwest Flight Departs Using Wrong Runway
Photo: Sven Piper

Southwest 737-700 and an Occupied, Closed Runway

As it departed, the Southwest aircraft reportedly overflew a crew and their vehicle. They were performing a runway inspection at the time. About two minutes after the incident, this ground crew inquired the tower controller about the Southwest flight.

The controller told the ground crew that the tower had also been closed during the incident. No controller spoke with the departing Southwest flight, which should have used runway 18 or 36 for departure.

INCIDENT: Southwest Flight Departs Using Wrong Runway
Photo: Nick Morales

Both the FAA and the NTSB are reportedly investigating this incident. At this time, it isn’t clear how close the aircraft got to the ground vehicle. But Southwest has attracted some attention in recent weeks, due to a number of incidents and close calls, with this runway incident joining that list.

After the event, the flight landed at its destination without further incident. The aircraft, a nineteen-year-old Boeing 737-700 with registration N7861J, has remained in regular service ever since. This particular aircraft first entered service with China Eastern Airlines. Southwest has had it in its fleet for around seven years.



  • I have never been a big fan of Part 121 carriers operating out of “uncontrolled” airports. Either Southwest or the ATC needs to change their times so they are operating when the tower is open. I used to fly the late night out of Maui (OGG) when the tower was closed. I had a small pit in my stomach until departure radar contact. You never know if some yahoo is going to come barreling in unannounced. Also, carelessness on the Southwest PIC for not reading all the notams.

  • Karlos “El listo fan de Boeing” Pineda

    Wow, this remembered me to SQ006, the Taipei accident which Petter has allready covered

  • Petter, not on this topic, but I read this morning that Boeing is going to buy Spirit Aeronautics. I think you covered the issue in a recent video.

  • This is my hometown airport PWM

    They PUBLISH A list every day of which arrivals and departures cannot use the primary runway

    But the do not erect an X on threshold

    Our tower was not open during this near catastrophe.

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