NTSB: Northwest Pilots Were Chatting, Using Laptops


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released details from its question-and-answer session with the wandering pilots of Northwest Flight 188. There's some pretty interesting stuff, so I'll just post straight from the release:

  • "Both pilots stated that they were not fatigued. They were both commuters, but they had a 19-hour layover in San Diego just prior to the incident flight. Both said they did not fall asleep or doze during the flight."
  • "Both said there was no heated argument."
  • "Both stated there was a distraction in the cockpit. The pilots said there was a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls from ATC (air traffic control) even though both stated they heard conversation on the radio. Also, neither pilot noticed messages that were sent by company dispatchers. They were discussing the new monthly crew flight scheduling system that was now in place as a result of the merger. The discussion began at cruise altitude."
  • "Both said they lost track of time."
  • "Each pilot accessed and used his personal laptop computer while they discussed the airline crew flight scheduling procedure. The first officer, who was more familiar with the procedure was providing instruction to the captain. The use of personal computers on the flight deck is prohibited by company policy."
  • "Neither pilot was aware of the airplane's position until a flight attendant called about 5 minutes before they were scheduled to land and asked what was their estimated time of arrival (ETA). The captain said, at that point, he looked at his primary flight display for an ETA and realized that they had passed MSP (Minneapolis). They made contact with ATC and were given vectors back to MSP."
  • "At cruise altitude—the pilots stated they were using cockpit speakers to listen to radio communications, not their headsets."
  • "When asked by ATC what the problem was, they replied 'just cockpit distraction' and 'dealing with company issues.'"

A few things jump out of this information: It seems clear at this point that fatigue did not play a role in this. With a 19-hour layover, the pilots would have had plenty of time to rest up. Instead, it seems poor judgment is the primary culprit, with both men either losing track of time or flat-out ignoring what was going on around them.

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Readers, what do you think about all this? Do you believe the pilots' story?

Read comments or add your own insight!
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