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2 pilots ‘grounded’ after they BOTH fell asleep and overshot their destination airport by 15 miles (despite panicked calls from air traffic controllers)

I don’t know whether to crack up laughing, or be horrified about this one! My gut reaction is is belly laughter for about ten minutes… Then reality sets in and I think about the consequences… Here’s the story

Dozy pilots sacked after falling asleep and overshooting airport by 15 miles – despite panicked calls from controllers
By DAVID GARDNER – More by this author »
Last updated at 22:37pm on 16th March 2008

“It’s one thing for passengers on a short flight to grab 40 winks.  But it’s quite another for both the captain and his co-pilot to take a power nap at 21,000 feet.  Last night, two pilots were accused of falling asleep at the controls of a passenger jet and overshooting the airport by 15 miles.  The aircraft was left on auto-pilot as the crew went off the radar and the jet drifted off course over the Pacific. The captain and his co-pilot have been grounded and are under investigation for allegedly snoozing through 11 calls from air traffic controllers desperate to reach them. When the skipper finally picked up a call and was asked by a panicked controller if there was anything wrong, he responded: “Uh, no emergency situation.” By that time, Flight 1002, operated by the cut-price go! airline, should have landed after a 30-minute inter-island Hawaiian trip. 

The plane should have started to descend about 60 miles from its destination – Hilo airport on Big Island – after a 214-mile hop from Honolulu on Oahu. But the plane with 40 passengers on board was still at cruising speed. The only people who apparently hadn’t noticed were the few passengers who had grabbed a snooze – and the pilots.

Map showing usual airline routes between the Hawaiian islands. The pilots, flying from Honolulu to Hilo,overshot the airport by 15miles

The first call from air traffic control came through about 15 minutes into the flight, asking for confirmation that the pilots were preparing for a landing. Over the next seven minutes, the controller tried repeatedly tried to make contact but got no response. Then she contacted another controller for help. According to air traffic control tapes, the second handler said: “He’s nordo [flying without radio contact] at 21,000 feet by Hilo already.” His colleague added: “Oh, wow.” Airline analyst Peter Foreman said: “Obviously, someone was not minding the store.”

The increasingly-concerned flight handlers finally tried contacting another airborne go! pilot hoping he could come up with a way to reach the lost crew.  When the captain finally responded 32 minutes into the flight, the controller told him: “Air Shuttle 1002, guys, I’ve been trying to contact you for the last 90 to 100 miles. I understand you’ve passed Hilo. Is there some kind of emergency situation going on?”

Apart from his hesitant denial, the captain didn’t appear to give any explanation for his radio silence. The 50-seat Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft landed safely a few minutes later.

America’s Federal Aviation Administration has launched an inquiry into the incident.

A spokesman for the Arizona-based airline declined to comment until the investigation has been completed.”

It would be easy to jump to the same conclusion that The Mail on Sunday has-blame the pilots… I mean they are obviously a ‘dozy’ pair right? Well, maybe… Maybe they were both coincidentally tired at the same time due to their own separate personal factors.

However, before we hang, draw and quarter them; consider this: these men are both highly qualified professionals, who trained long and hard to earn their careers in flying. Budget airlines are known for working their pilots to the very threshold of the legal limits… It is not as ridiculous as this article suggests that pilots take a nap/rest break in-flight; in fact, it is not uncommon (in long-haul pilots at least); especially if they are fatigued, and as long as they have the consent of the other pilot operating the flight with them.

I wonder if this was the case in this situation, but the pilot that was meant to stay awake drifted off due to ‘pilot fatigue’. There are bound to be other factors that we aren’t seeing reported in this story.  I seriously think that Go! will need to shoulder some of the responsibility for this situation. If there is one thing that Bf has drummed into me over the course of stories about air crash investigations that we have discussed; it is that there is never a single cause for these events. There is always a catastrophic chain of events that link together.

A slightly better reported article (see full story here) added this:

Barry Schiff is an airline-safety expert who says pilot fatigue is a bigger problem than the flying public knows. “I don’t think the public has any idea how tired these pilots are,” Schiff said. “But of course they get a cheap ticket, don’t they?”

A passenger on a Go! flight said: “Any time you hear of a pilot going to sleep on a flight – especially the flight you’re on – yeah, it makes you real nervous.” A statement from Mesa Airlines read: “We are cooperating fully. We have no further comment.” Mesa Airlines, which runs Go! Airlines, said in a statement today that it is cooperating with the FAA.

Pilots for Mesa Airlines have complained in the past about tight schedules and staffing shortages.

Obviously this was a short-haul flight, and this makes it slightly more unlikely; although I would not be surprised if they had been subject to delays leaving, or called out at last minute; or working a very heavy roster… Or all of the above! As far as I am concerned; the jury is still out until the FAA’s report is concluded…


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