More than 100 people were stuck in Key West Monday morning when Southwest Airlines cancelled its flight to Orlando after airport officials discovered that one of the airport's two visual approach slope indicators was not working.
The indicators are a system of lights on the side of the runway that provide visual guidance to approaching aircraft during their descent. The lights are visible up to 5 miles away during the day and 20 miles at night. The indicators are owned and operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton said he received a call from the control tower at 10:25 a.m. Monday telling him the visual approach slope indicators were not operating.
Horton contacted the FAA, and officials there told him a technician would be sent from Miami to fix the problem. But the airport did not have the luxury of waiting for the technician to get to Key West, so Horton directed the airport's electrician to make the repair.
The fix was a minor one -- a burned-out light socket. By noon, the system was back up and operating, Horton said.
Passengers going to Orlando wandered around the airport and made other transportation arrangements Monday morning as they waited on information from Southwest.
"Everyone is panicking," Rhode Island resident Michael Hoffman said as he waited to find out if the Orlando flight was cancelled. "I hope the flight is cancelled. I'm in no hurry to get home."
Southwest's other two daily flights -- Tamp and New Orleans -- were not affected, Horton said.
"Southwest operates under an abundance of caution, and I will never fault anyone for that," he said.
No other airlines cancelled flights. Delta brought in a flight from Atlanta while the system was being repaired.
Horton's office was flooded with phone calls as rumors circulated about the radar system in the control tower being shut down, the airport being closed for the day and all runway lights being extingished.