If you’ve ever looked into the cockpit of the airliner, you can not miss the impressive instrument panel or dashboard filled with important looking gages, buttons, and knobs all designed to fly millions of us safely everyday. Given that, how did two airline pilots fly 150 miles past their Minneapolis destination inspite of numerous warnings including cockpit displays? Their actions, or lack of, resulted in the Air National Guard putting fighter jets on alert in the event it was terrorism. See a map and video below.
Well, now we know it was not terrorists that caused the two Northwest Airlines pilots to miss Minneapolis, going 150 miles out of the way and flying over Eau Claire, Wisconsin before turning back. The pilots say they were distracted over a heated argument on airline policy. However some suggest that pilot fatigue may be to blame and that the pilots may have fallen asleep on the job. Whether it’s an argument or dozing off, both are pretty bad.
It’s really a bit disconcerting to know that the two pilots had numerous warnings as they approached and passed Minneapolis: cockpit displays, controllers trying repeatedly to reach them, the big city lights of Minneapolis leaving them as they head for a smaller, less populated Eau Claire.
According to accounts, the pilots had been out of communication with air traffic controllers for over an hour – 78 minutes of radio silence. Unbelievably, the pilots were actually told they overshot the Minneapolis runway by a flight attendant in the cabin who contacted them by intercom.
The flight itself had originated in San Diego and had 144 passengers on board. The passengers say they had no idea that their plane had missed Minneapolis — which is probably a good thing. On the ground, however, it was a different story. Authorities had been notified and the Air National Guard had put fighter jets on alert just in case it was terrorism.
You know that moment on a plane when it finally stops and everyone jumps up to grab their gear in the overhead bins? It was then that the plane was swarmed by police. Passengers were kept in their seats until the pilots could be interviewed. When passengers found out what had happened, many were horrified that the pilots of their plane seemed to not be paying attention while flying at 37,000 feet up. Well, yeah.
And the pilots who flew the plane, overshooting the runway by 150 miles and causing terrorism fears? Suspended, pending an internal investigation, which include the flight recorders. You can watch a video of reaction to this bizarre incident below.
Updated with new information: Transcripts released today by the Federal Aviation Administration reveal that the controllers repeatedly asked the pilots of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 what had happened to make them overshoot their runway by 150 miles — and that the crew would only say that there were “distractions.”
The transcripts shows one of the pilots told air traffic controllers that they had been distracted because they were dealing with “company issues”. Also listed in the transcripts, 90 seconds of conversation about the route the pilots should take back to their missed destination of Minneapolis.
Then, stunningly, a controller said, “I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure.”
A pilot said, “It is secure, we got distracted.” He said that he and the other pilot never heard the hails from the air traffic controllers.
When asked again for an explanation of what happened, one of the pilots said, “Cockpit distractions, that’s all I can say.”
Air traffic controllers then had the pilots perform several turns to verify that they were in control of the plane before allowing it to land safely in Minneapolis.
The pilots have told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were looking at their company’s complicated new crew-scheduling program over their laptop computers. Federal regulators have revoked the licenses of the two Northwest Airlines pilots and that action is under appeal.
You can read the transcripts and listen to the audio files here. The second video below is new and demonstrates, through transcripts, the efforts that the FAA made to contact Flight 188.
This post was originally published on October 23, 1009.