... the Northwest Airlines flight that apparently "missed" the Minneapolis-St Paul airport today and overshot it by 150 miles did not make an ordinary mistake, like missing Exit 32A on a busy freeway and having to get off on Exit 32B.This is more like ... well, it's hard to think of a comparison, because it's pretty startling.
Once when I was flying westward toward the Rapid City airport in South Dakota, I found myself lining up 25 miles away instead with the much bigger runway of Ellsworth Air Force Base nearby. I must not have been the first one to do so, because the controller said in a routine way, "What you're probably heading for is Ellsworth. You want to turn your head ten degrees to the left and look for a little airport that's closer. That's where you want to go." This was embarrassing enough, and it was just my wife and me, not a bunch of paying passengers. (Below, Google Earth's view of what caused my problems. The runways have similar orientation, and Ellsworth is the first one you see from a distance. And this is from straight overhead! I was looking from a slant, into a setting sun, from a relatively low altitude, way off in the distance. It's a miracle I saw either of them!)
In contrast, from the air you really cannot miss a big, busy, international airport. It's unlike anything else you see -- especially when controllers are talking you every step of the way, as they are required to with airliners. Rather, I guess you can miss it, but it's a surprise.
Glad everyone is safe. Will be interesting to hear the pilots' account. I have my own hypotheses, but it's fairer to wait.