The FAA is investigating why a system used to guide planes onto the runway at a North Carolina airport was shut off earlier that expected, forcing two commercial aircraft to abort landings there.
"We couldn't even see the approach. No navigation at all," one pilot said in air traffic control recordings from the late Wednesday scare.
The runway at Wilmington International Airport was supposed to be closed at around midnight because of construction but instead was shut off an hour earlier than scheduled, according to airport officials.
"The airport lights are not on," one pilot said. "They actually flipped the switch early."
Airport operations director Gary Broughton told local reporters a runway repaving job is occasionally prompting officials to close both runways late at night when the work is done, according to The Associated Press. Heughton said the lights were improperly turned off at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday night, instead of at 12:15 a.m. Thursday.
The Delta flight originating from Atlanta and a US Airways flight from Charlotte instead returned to their departing airports.
"Somebody went in and shutdown everything that had to do with landing at this airport," said ABC News aviation and military consultant Steve Ganyard, a former Marine colonel. "They shut down the lights, they shut down the instrument landing system. There was nobody to talk to."
The instrument landing systems (ILS) are installed at both ends of a runway, helping pilots land when visibility is low.
"There was no way that they could have successfully or safely shot an approach into Wilmington with both the runway lights and the instrument landing system turned off," Ganyard said. "It was an unnecessary risk caused by human error and poor supervision."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.