from the Wall Street Journal
Airport Overshoot Prompts Pilot-Fatigue Probe
By ANDY PASZTOR
A Northwest Airlines flight approaching Minneapolis Wednesday night lost contact with controllers and overshot its destination by about 150 miles before circling back to land. Federal safety regulators are investigating the incident as a possible case of pilots nodding off, according to government and airline-industry officials familiar with the matter.
Controllers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were able to re-establish contact with the Airbus A320 before the plane, en route from San Diego, landed safely and without injuries, these people said.
Details are still emerging and the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to release information later Thursday. The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the incident. Based on preliminary indications, industry and government officials believe the crew may have briefly fallen asleep, flown past the airport and then circled back to land.
Northwest is a unit of Delta Air Lines
"The safety of our passengers and crew is our top priority," Delta said in a statement. "We are cooperating with the FAA and NTSB in their investigation as well as conducting our own internal investigation. The pilots have been relieved from active flying pending the completion of these investigations."
The incident comes as the FAA is seeking to update and rewrite decades-old rules governing how long commercial pilots can fly and remain on duty during a given period.
Wednesday night's incident is the second time in less than a week that a Delta cockpit crew was involved in a high-profile safety lapse. On Monday, a long-range Delta Boeing 767 en route from Brazil to Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport landed on a taxiway, rather than the parallel runway. There were no injuries to any of the 182 passengers or 11 crew members.
The safety board is investigating whether pilot fatigue was an important factor. The crew had flown all night and was landing in darkness. The approach lights for the runway weren't turned on, however the lights on the runway surface were illuminated, according to the safety board.
Concerning the Minneapolis flight, it's not clear what the pilots' schedule was in the hours before it overshot the airport Wednesday night. But their work hours and sleep schedules in the preceding few days will be among the main issues examined by investigators.
In the case of the Delta crew that landed on the taxiway in Atlanta, the safety board said Wednesday that a third pilot aboard the twin-engine Boeing 767 had fallen ill during the flight and "was relocated to the cabin" before landing. The board said there was 10-miles visibility when the big jet touched down on the taxiway.
Earlier media reports indicated that the crew of the Boeing 767 had been temporarily removed from flying duties.
Andy Pasztor at [email protected]