I have not decided yet if I am more horrified or embarrassed by this incident. A Delta Airlines aircraft landed on a taxiway at Atlanta-Harstfield airport on October 19th.
A taxiway should be easily distinguishable from a runway at any time of day, but especially in the pre-dawn hours when the runway lights are still illuminated. Morning civil twilight at Atlanta was at 7:20am on the 19th, and sunrise occurred at 7:45am. Since the flight landed at 6:05am, it was still dark and the crew should have been able to easily distinguish the runway they were supposed to land on from a taxiway.
Yes, there was the question of a medical emergency, but it is the crew’s job to, first and foremost, fly the aircraft. There is no excuse for this incident. It may have been an honest mistake, but even so it displays a gross lack of situational awareness. There are two pilots in the cockpit, and at least one tower controller on duty at the time this happened. Someone should have noticed where the aircraft was heading well before it touched down. It is a good thing the taxiway was empty at the time, or we would be looking at a disaster. I suppose we can also be thankful that the aircraft didn’t land in the grass between the runway and the taxiway.