Miscommunication left passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis stranded on the Oklahoma City tarmac as threatening storms swept through the area Wednesday, according to the Oklahoman newspaper. Another flight, which arrived from Salt Lake City, was in a similar situation.
Ground crews at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City went underground to wait out a tornado warning shortly after 5 p.m., leaving the planes with no way to unload passengers.
A passenger on the flight from Salt Lake City told the Oklahoman that they waited for about 15 minutes before airport staff realized there had been a miscommunication and resumed work long enough to help them disembark.
The airport calls for evacuation 30 to 45 minutes before a storm is expected to hit in order to keep people in the terminals safe and give aircraft adequate time to make adjustments, said airport spokeswoman Karen Carney.
In this case, Carney said, the planes were on final approach and had to land.
"[The passengers] were never in any imminent danger," she said, adding that evacuation calls are difficult to time and the airport typically errs on the side of caution.
A Delta official said the incident was caused by bad timing and inadequate communication between the airline, the FAA and airport managers, the Oklahoman reported.
Carney said the airport is responsible for making the evacuation call, but that it doesn't control the ground crews.
Both planes were regional jets with seating capacities of 76 seats each, a Delta spokesman told the Oklahoman.
The airport's terminal had been evacuated twice Wednesday due to threatening storms which produced a number of tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area. Several hundred people were moved into a tunnel once around 5 p.m. and again around 7 p.m.
At least a dozen residents of an Oklahoma City mobile home park were injured by storms.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Anne Millerbernd is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.