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Distracted Northwest Crew Overshoots Destination

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The FAA and NTSB are investigating a bizarre incident in which a Northwest Airlines Airbus 320 overshot its intended destination by 150 miles on Wednesday evening. The crew went NORDO for 78 minutes before finally acknowledging blind calls from Minneapolis Center and reversing course back to the destination. When queried later, the crew claimed it lost situational awareness during a spirited discussion about airline policy. Center controllers became so concerned about the comm loss that they considered asking for Air National Guard fighters to intercept and investigate the wayward flight.

Northwest Flight 188 was en route from San Diego to Minneapolis at FL370 when contact was lost at about 6:45 p.m. local time. (Details on FlightAware.com.) The aircraft overflew Minneapolis and crossed the state line into Wisconsin before the crew responded to ATC and turned back toward the airport. A review of the cockpit voice recorder is underway and will probably reveal if the crew was discussing policy or snoozing. Either way, the incident raised new concerns about pilot fatigue and crew duty time limits. Passengers reported that the flight was meant with intense security after it landed and that they were detained briefly as security personnel checked out the cockpit for signs of a hijacking. All of the passengers were then allowed to deplane.

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