NTSB Asks If Northwest Pilots Nodded Off Before Landing

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


By Andy Pasztor, Wall Street Journal

Pilots of a Northwest Airlines flight approaching Minneapolis International Airport Wednesday night temporarily lost radio contact with air-traffic controllers and apparently overshot their destination by about 100 miles.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident as a possible case of pilots nodding off at the controls, according to government and industry officials familiar with the matter.

Controllers were able to re-establish contact with the Airbus A320, these people said, and the plane eventually landed safely without injuries. The plane was en route from San Diego to Minneapolis. Details are still emerging and the safety board is expected to release some information later Thursday. But based on preliminary indications, industry and government officials believe the crew may have briefly fallen asleep, flown past the airport, and then circled back to land.

Northwest is a unit of Delta Air Lines Inc. A Delta spokeswoman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The incident comes as the Federal Aviation Administration is seeking to update and rewrite decades-old rules governing how long commercial pilots can fly and remain on duty during a given period.

Wednesday night’s incident is the second time in less than a week that a Delta cockpit crew was involved in a high-profile safety lapse. On Monday, a long-range Delta Boeing 767 en route from Brazil to Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport landed on a taxiway, rather than the parallel runway, at the Atlanta field in darkness. There were no injuries to any of the 182 passengers or 11 crew members.

The safety board is investigating whether pilot fatigue was an important factor. The crew had flown all night flight and was landing in darkness. The approach lights for the runway weren’t turned on, however the lights on the runway surface were illuminated, according to the safety board. The  board is investigating the Atlanta incident, as well.

It’s not clear what the pilots’ schedule was in the hours before the flight overshot the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Wednesday night. But their work hours and sleep schedules in the preceding few days will be among the main issues examined by safety board investigators.



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