Port Vila, Vanuatu (PressExposure) October 30, 2009 -- What was really taking place in the cockpit when the commercial flight of Northwest Airline was out of communication for over an hour? Was it aliens or fatique?
Federal investigators strive to find out what the crew members of the jetliner were doing at 37,000 feet as they sped past their Minneapolis destination by 150 miles. Military jets were getting ready to chase them.
After the flight the pilots passed breathalyzer tests and appeared extremely apologetic. The airlines authorities affirmed the pilots told them they had been having such a heated argument about airline policy, they had lost track of time. Aviation safety professionals and other pilots are extremely skeptical that the crew could have become so inattentive to their duties that they forgot to land an aircraft carrying 144 passengers.
First officer, Richard I. Cole refused to discuss exactly what happened, but did insist âIt was not a serious event, from a safety issue. I canât go into it, but it was innocuous.â
Only the final 30 minutes of the flight has been recorded by the cockpit recorder. These were sent to the National Transportation Safety Boardâs Washington headquarters. Spokesman Keith Holloway said that fatigue and cockpit distraction will be looked into.
Unable to raise the pilotâs attention, the plane continued through the night, over a wide swath of the midcontinent. Air traffic controllers in two states, as well as pilots in other planes, tried raising the plane by radio, data message and cell phone. On the ground, fearful officials alerted National Guard jets to go after the airliner from two locations, though none of the military planes got off the runway.
The Flight Safety Foundation president Voss state âThe three flight attendants onboard should have questioned why there were no preparations for landing being made.â
The pilots should have been warned by brightly lit cockpit displays it was time to land. Aviation experts affirm the lights of Minneapolis should have clued them in that they'd reached their destination, despite cloudy conditions.
The pilots finally became aware of the situation when a flight attendant called on an intercom from the cabin.
Even after contact was re-established air traffic controllers demanded the crew prove who they were by executing turns, with worries about terrorists still high.
The head flight attendant advised police she was unaware of any incident during the flight.
Lonnie Heidtke, a passenger on the extended flight, says he didn't notice anything unusual before the landing except that the plane was late. Heidtke said "I did jokingly call my wife and say, 'This is the first time I've seen the police meet the plane. Maybe they're going to arrest the pilots for being so late.' Maybe I was right".
Delta confirmed it plans to give flight vouchers worth a few hundred dollars to each of the passengers. The two pilots have both been temporarily suspended.
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