Back in December 2015, Southwest Airlines Flight 31, a Boeing 737 (N649SW), was taxiing to the gate at Nashville International Airport when the pilot misjudged a turn onto an unlit taxiway and drove his plane into a ditch. Though the aircraft’s taxi lights were lit, the flight crew was dazzled by the lights of the terminal and couldn’t see the darkened taxiway. The airliner suffered a collapsed nose wheel and damage to the fuselage and engines. Nine of the 138 passengers and crew were slightly injured while evacuating the plane.
After the plane came to rest in the ditch, things didn’t exactly go smoothly. A landing gear warning siren was blaring in the cockpit, and the pilots couldn’t shut it off. That distraction kept them from communicating with flight attendants, and the flight attendants were unable to contact the cockpit because the interphone wasn’t working. The pilots eventually called over the public address that the passengers were to stay on the plane, but the flight attendants, since they couldn’t reach the cockpit, had already ordered the evacuation.
About one minute after the airplane came to rest, the pilots noticed that the slides were deploying and passengers were evacuating and the captain announced on the public address system “Okay don’t evacuate flight attendants, do not evacuate,” to which the first officer responded “Oh, they are already going.”
Of course, as the passengers started moving around the cabin, they began to grab their belongings. One passenger took his large folding garment bag with him down the escape slide. Another passenger tried to take a giant rolling suitcase down the slide. The flight attendant was having none of that nonsense.
I only had one lady try to take a huge roller bag down the slide. I yelled at her to leave everything. She was reluctant, but I finally grabbed the bag from her hands and threw it against the aft closet and told her to go down the slide.
Good for her.
But how did the lights get turned off? Apparently, pilots had been complaining that the centerline lights were too bright, so ground controllers would routinely turn them off. The Controller in Charge turned off the offending lights, but also inadvertently turned off the lights that were going to be needed by SW31. And, to top it off, the computer screen that would have warned them that the lights were off had gone into a screensaver, so when the Southwest plane landed the controllers didn’t know the lights were still off.
Not surprisingly, Nashville Airport modified their practices about turning off the taxiway lighting, and disabled their screensaver, which probably looked a bit like this: