Sunday, October 25, 2009

Northwest 188

This is freaky:
The co-pilot of a Northwest Airlines flight that overshot the Minneapolis, Minnesota, airport by 150 miles says he and the pilot weren't asleep and they weren't arguing.

"But other than that, I cannot tell you anything that went on because we're having hearings this weekend, we're having hearings on Tuesday. All that information will come out then."

Cole said there's been "a lot of misinformation that's going on. Things are being said that didn't happen, but I can't go into any details."
Well, let's see. According to the details printed in the Obama-approved media they never changed frequencies leaving Denver Center, otherwise this wouldn't make sense:
Ultimately, controllers contacted two other Northwest planes, asking them to try to reach Flight 188 through its last known frequency. One of those planes succeeded, prompting the pilot to contact Minneapolis, Church said.
So their defense seems to be they just missed the assigned frequency and forget to check back in with ATC for 90 minutes. Recall in the Buffalo crash the late 40-ish pilot was engaged in a conversation with his early 20-ish female co-pilot and also lost 'situational awareness'. Since both of these guys were 50-somethings the sleep apnea thing sounds more plausible, although the first officer seems adamant it was only a radio foulup:
"I can tell you that airplanes lose contact with the ground people all the time. It happens. Sometimes they get together right away; sometimes it takes awhile before one or the other notices that they are not in contact."
Right, but that doesn't explain losing awareness of position in the sky--the loss of radio contact doesn't render a flight blind. Something was preoccupying this crew before they reached the standard terminal arrival route into the MSP airport, about a hundred miles west of the airport or in the least they weren't watching their navigation instruments. Let's hope such things aren't more common that we know.

Or maybe we should make something out of the fact one of the pilots is named Cheney. Hmm. Guess we'll find out more on Tuesday.

MORE 10/26/09

Not sure this is enough to explain things, nor will it calm the fears of nervous fliers:
"Neither pilot said he was aware of where the plane was until a flight attendant called the cockpit about five minutes before the plane was to have landed and asked their estimated time of arrival, the report said.

"The captain said, at that point, he looked at his primary flight display for an ETA and realized that they had passed" the airport, it added.
If the FA called the cockpit "five minutes" before scheduled landing time and the pilots suddenly noticed they had passed the airport at that moment, then they couldn't have been very far past the airport, although to be fair, an airplane at 37,000 feet flying at 500 mph could cover 150 miles in a little less than 20 minutes, so maybe they had a strong unforecast tailwind and the pilots thought they had more time to play around.

Still, it's hard to imagine a pilot with 20,000 hours losing full situational awareness to a laptop while in flight to the point of ignoring ATC, other traffic, and standard arrival procedures. Since laptops tend to leave tracks this excuse should be pretty easy to confirm.

4 comments:

LASunsett said...

As someone who knows little about commercial aviation, this has sounded a bit fishy from the beginning. I am glad that you, having significantly more knowledge, are also suspicious of this situation. Hopefully, they can and will get to the bottom of this and address it soon.

I don't fly a lot anymore. But I am currently planning another trip next spring to allow Mustang to grass drill me into the earth again, and I would like to think that those who we entrust to get us there safely are doing what they need to do to get us there.

If it's a case of pilot error or if there are systemic problems, either way I hope they will be dealt with accordingly.

A.C. McCloud said...

I know enough to be dangerous, LA, but am not a commercial pilot so I can't place myself exactly in that scenario.

But from reading some of the pilot forums it seems to be an old trick to fly around for a half hour after a screw-up to defeat the 30 minute CVR. Sounds plausible as well, but lets hope there's a better explanation.

Debbie said...

A friend say maybe the two pilots were having sex with each other or with the stewardesses. Of course I don't buy that, but...

What were the stewardesses doing? Surely they knew the plane was flying too long, that it had not started it's descent, that they captain had not talked to them in all that time? Something is fishy with the pilots AND the stewardesses/stewards.

Hubby is a private pilot and I've had the "right seat" course, I cannot understand how this could happen. I look forward to the "official" report.

Deborah F. Hamilton
Right Truth
http://www.righttruth.typepad.com

A.C. McCloud said...

I wasn't gonna bring up the mile high club stuff Debbie! But of course that's part of the scuttlebutt going around.