Moderator: PZL Belfegor
I live in Springfield, MO and work in Branson. I know the area from the air in real life and in the simulator. I can understand the mistake in some ways.
1. When you're flying the published approach for KBBG on rwy 14, it's RNAV and the IAF for the procedure is just about above the KPLK airport. Hard to make the mistake, but...
2. If you're coming on vectors from the north, visual approach as would have been that night, Springfield Approach would send you on a 180 heading and have you call the field at 8 miles. In that specific situation, you would have runway lights for KPLK at your 11 o'clock and closer. If you didn't know the area, you wouldn't think twice about it.
3. The approach procedure for KBBG does not show KPLK as a nearby airport, so no clue there.
4. It comes down to a poor approach briefing and planning. Runway 14 at KBBG doesn't have an ILS to tune and if you didn't load the procedure in the FMS, then you likely would miss it without the briefing.
Now, what baffles me is that the likely distance between the "airport in sight" call from ATC and the KPLK runway threshold is less than 5 miles. They would have been at 3000 or 4000ft so the descent would have been steep with flaps being dumped in a hurry.
Finally, if you're curious: load up the KBBG scenery in FSX (available on AVSIM) and set the time to night. Take off from Springfield (KSGF), head to the Springfield VOR and turn 180 heading at 4000 ft. Don't load the KBBG approach procedure. Fly until you see airport lights and decide which airport is which.