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October 23rd, 2009
08:08 AM ET

Airliner overshoots airport; controllers feared hijacking

By Mike M. Ahlers
CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A passenger flight from San Diego, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, overshot its destination airport by about 150 miles Wednesday, and federal investigators are looking into whether the pilots had become distracted, as they claimed, or perhaps fallen asleep.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TRAVEL/10/23/airliner.fly.by/art.minneapolis.gi.jpg.jpg caption="An aerial view shows downtown Minneapolis."]

Air traffic controllers lost radio communication with the Northwest Airlines Airbus A320, carrying 147 passengers and an unknown number of crew, when it was flying at 37,000 feet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. There was no communication with Flight 188 for more than an hour as it approached the airport, the board said.

When air traffic controllers finally made contact with the pilot, his answers were so vague that controllers feared the plane might have been hijacked, according to a source familiar with the incident.

The controllers in Minneapolis ordered the pilot to make a series of unnecessary maneuvers to convince them the pilots were in control of the flight, the source said, adding that fighter jets were poised in Madison, Wisconsin, but were never deployed.

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Filed under: Airline safety
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Sean Broadbent

    The recent event with the pilot out of MSP is obvious to any seasoned pilot that these pilots were asleep. This was most likely as a result of fatigue, the primary thing the industry refuses to recognize. This is rampant in our industry with short rest and long duty days mixed in with schedules designed to maximize personell utilization in order to save on increase the bottom line. Before we all go after these already overworked fellows, lets examine what led to this then we can have an educated discussion about how to prevent this from happening again. In case the non pilot professionals out there are not aware, FAR Part 121 carriers use the following rest, duty and flight times; must have a block of 24 consecutive hours off duty within a 7 day period (6 day work week) maximum 16 hour duty day, maximum 8 hours flying in a 24 hour period, required minimum crew rest of 8 hours which begins when the brake is set and chocks are placed on the wheels and ends at show time to the airport. This rest time does not take into consideration transportation to hotel or to one's home which could be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Take into account that FAR part 121 pilots are just like everybody else in that they need time to wind down after working for 16 hours and flying for 8 hours within those 16 hours of duty. They are legal to do this for 6 days in a row. If the average person did this, how do you think they would function in an office environment, or in a construction job operating heavy equipment. Now consider this, the industry has accepted this for decades and this is what the american public relies upon to safely transport themselves accross our nation and accross the oceans. Yet, we still hear about accidents and fatigue is one of the largest contributing factors. We all want $69,00 One Way tickets from NY-LA and to pay for it, we use crews until they drop from exhaustion. Think about this the next time you board a 7 AM Departure out of LGA or BOS. Think about those guys up front and if they had a good rest last night. Did they have 16 hour days for the last 5 days and is this day 6 of another 16 hour day? Food for thought. Why do European Crews only have a 12 hour duty day? Most likely because it is the "Civilized" thing to do.

    November 28, 2009 at 1:35 am |
  2. Geber Chávez

    Considering today´s flights terrorist danger, these irresponsible pilots reminds me the pilots who took President Obama for a ride around The Statue of Liberty, causing panic to the people of New York and the United States. In both cases these four pilots should get their licenses revoked. Take them to court and make them paid an indemnification of $10,000,000 dollars each. In addition they deserve to go to JAIL please. My comment has been observed asking Moderation. Is it because I mentioned President Obama.? With all respect, I am just saying the very truth. We should not have consideration to all people responsible of September 11th. We can not afford mind weakness.

    October 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Geber Chávez

    Considering today´s flights terrorist danger, these irresponsible pilots reminds me the pilots who took President Obama for a ride around The Statue of Liberty, causing panic ro the people of New York and the United States. In both cases these four pilots should get their licenses revoked. Take them to court and make them paid an indemnification of $10,000,000 dollars each. In addition they deserve to go to JAIL please.

    October 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  4. allen morris

    Is a retired commercial pilot it became glaringly obvious to me that the number one detriment to aviation safety is pilot fatigue. In my recent book, The Rogue Aviator: In the Back Alleys of Aviation, by author Ace Abbott, I elaborate on this theme with many personal anecdotes and incidents. This book is a readily available by going to my website, (therogueaviator.com) and can be purchased as an electronic book for a rapid reference to numerous instances regarding tired pilots operating dysfunctionaly. For additional conversation regarding this subject I can be reached at 561-302-1308.
    Sincerely yours,
    Allen Morris

    October 23, 2009 at 8:48 am |
  5. deano

    SUSPENDED? These pilots should be FIRED now! Unless someone had a gun to their heads, they should NEVER be allowed to fly anything bigger than a kite!

    October 23, 2009 at 8:40 am |