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NTSB Reports Details Of Sleeping Pilots Incident

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The NTSB has released its factual report on the Feb. 13 airline flight during which both pilots fell asleep in the cockpit. The go! Airlines Bombardier CL-600 was bound from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, at about 9 a.m., with 40 passengers. Midway into the flight, the crew failed to respond to repeated radio calls from air traffic control and other pilots for almost 20 minutes. The aircraft overflew its destination by 26 miles, then the crew turned around and landed safely. Both pilots had flown eight legs in each of the two days prior to the incident, and had started their workday at 4 a.m. Scheduling glitches and a heavier workload due to a malfunctioning flight management system on several flights added to their stresses, the NTSB reported. The first officer, age 23, was assigned to fly the leg to Hilo. "Working as hard as we had, we tend to relax," the captain, age 53, told the NTSB. "We had gotten back on schedule [after a departure delay], it was comfortable in the cockpit, the pressure was behind us. The warm Hawaiian sun was blaring in as we went eastbound. I just kind of closed my eyes for a minute, enjoying the sunshine, and dozed off." The first officer said he entered a sleep-like state from which he could "hear what was going on, but could not comprehend or make it click." The captain told investigators that he had often taken naps in the cockpit in the past, but the first officer said he had never dozed off before. The captain was later evaluated and found to suffer from sleep apnea, which can cause "significant fatigue." The captain called the FAA upon landing, the NTSB said, and told FAA personnel the crew had lost radio communications because they had selected an incorrect frequency. The captain and first officer then discussed whether they should fly the next scheduled flight, and decided it would be safe "because they were feeling very alert as a result of the incident."

During that flight, back to Honolulu, they decided they should not fly for the rest of the day, and notified their scheduling office. The captain declined to provide an explanation on the telephone to the chief pilot, but a few hours later, he submitted a written report to Mesa Airlines, the parent of go!, stating that he and the first officer had fallen asleep during the cruise phase of flight. Both pilots were fired by the airline. The FAA suspended the captain's certificate for 60 days and the first officer's for 45 days.

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