Pilots used laptop computers while straying off course

October 27, 2009
File photo shows a Northwest Airlines jet at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota. Two distracted US pilots were using laptop computers against company rules last week when they overshot their destination by some 150 miles (240 kilometers), federal investigators said.

Two distracted US pilots were using laptop computers against company rules last week when they overshot their destination by some 150 miles (240 kilometers), federal investigators said.

The , 53, and co-pilot, 54, both experienced fliers with 20,000 and 11,000 hours of time under their belt, were questioned for five hours by National Transportation Safety Board officials seeking an explanation to the unusual mistake.

On October 21, a Northwest Airline Airbus A320 from San Diego, California with 147 passengers and five crew was expected to land at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, but instead grossly overshot it before air-traffic controlers managed to regain contact.

The pilots, with no record of accidents, incidents, violations or medical problems, told NTSB they were not tired at the time and did not have a heated discussion, as media reports had indicated at first.

They said they were in "a concentrated period of discussion" at cruising altitude and did not monitor the airplane or the calls from air-traffic control, even though they both said they heard the radio, the NTSB said in a statement.

The pilots even ignored calls from their company -- Delta Airline, which owns Northwest -- and were using their laptops against company rules while discussing their new work schedules under the company merger.

"Both said they lost track of time," investigators said.

They were oblivious to what was happening when, five minutes before their scheduled landing, a flight attendant called on the intercom to ask when the plane would land.

Only then did the pilots realize their blunder and contact air-traffic control in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to redirect their flight back to their destination.

Normally, landing procedures in a commercial flight begin at least 125 miles (200 kilometers) before the destination, NTSB experts said.

Passengers aboard Northwest flight 188 were unaware of what was happening, although some witnesses later said they thought the flight was taking longer than usual.

They knew something was up when, upon landing, armed police and investigators came on board the flight before they were allowed to deplane.

The pilots' explanation was confirmed by preliminary data from a half-hour recording from the plane's cockpit voice recorder, NTSB said.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: NASA wants to smooth bumpy plane rides

Related Stories

NASA wants to smooth bumpy plane rides

July 20, 2005

Most airline passengers and even flight crews don't like turbulence, so NASA researchers have developed an automatic turbulence reporting system.

Pilots at risk for cosmic cataracts

August 8, 2005

Researchers say they've determined airline pilots are at increased risk of cataracts usually associated with aging as a result of cosmic radiation.

NASA testing a 'clear view' for pilots

October 5, 2005

NASA officials in Washington say they are working on a project to make flying safer by electronically giving pilots a clear view of their surroundings.

Common GPS could help better track airline flights

June 4, 2009

(AP) -- Get lost in the woods and a cell phone in your pocket can help camping buddies find you. Drive into a ditch and GPS in your car lets emergency crews pinpoint the crash site. But when a transcontinental flight is ...

Greek pilots see red from laser pen pranks

August 19, 2009

Greece's civil aviation pilots on Wednesday called for a crackdown on laser pen pranksters who have endangered a growing number of plane landings around the country.

Recommended for you

Microsoft describes hard-to-mimic authentication gesture

August 1, 2015

Photos. Messages. Bank account codes. And so much more—sit on a person's mobile device, and the question is, how to secure them without having to depend on lengthy password codes of letters and numbers. Vendors promoting ...

Power grid forecasting tool reduces costly errors

July 30, 2015

Accurately forecasting future electricity needs is tricky, with sudden weather changes and other variables impacting projections minute by minute. Errors can have grave repercussions, from blackouts to high market costs. ...

Netherlands bank customers can get vocal on payments

August 1, 2015

Are some people fed up with remembering and using passwords and PINs to make it though the day? Those who have had enough would prefer to do without them. For mobile tasks that involve banking, though, it is obvious that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.