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Browsing or Drowsing? Wayward Northwest Pilots Plead Laptop Distraction

6 comments

In an interesting twist, two Northwest pilots have now told investigators they were working on laptop computers when they badly overshot the Twin Cities.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators released a report regarding the five hour pilot interviews, which took place in the Twin Cities on Sunday. The investigation is ongoing, and the flight attendants are being interviewed today.

It is a violation of Delta/Northwest company policy to use personal computers in the cockpit. No word yet on whether laptop use violates any Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.

Both pilots continue to claim that they were not sleeping, and that they were not even fatigued. The pilots stated that they were discussing a new monthly crew scheduling system put in place since the recent merger between Delta and Northwest.

According to the NTSB report, Captain Timothy B. Cheney (Gig, Harbor, Washington) and First Officer Richard I. Cole of Salem, Oregon state that there was a “concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls from [the air traffic controllers] even though they both stated they heard conversation on their radio.”

The Star Tribune story quotes the NTSB preliminary report:

"Both pilots said they had never had an accident, incident or violation.

"Neither pilot reported any ongoing medical conditions.

"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. 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.’

"Both pilots said there are no procedures for the flight attendants to check on the pilots during flight."

What were they Doing? This new information may open a new can of worms for the pilots. Naturally, any inspector would now want to review the laptop computers involved to try to determine whether the story could be corroborated or not. Then the question arises of just how deeply into these personal laptops the pilots will allow the NTSB to dig. Computers and most web browsing software maintain logs of all sites visits, as well as caches of text and multimedia files downloaded.

My original article, with some photos and can be found here: Airliner Misses Minneapolis – Sleeping, Arguing, Cockpit Sex Orgy?.

What will the NTSB find if and when they get into those hard drives? Stayed tuned!

6 Comments

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  1. Jamaicafest says:
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    I would like to know what was it on those laptops that was so captivating.

  2. Joe Crumley says:
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    That’s a question we all want answered, J-Fest. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. jhnderson says:
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    not trying to be funny or anything, but they were probably in some kind of heated homosexual activity and just got lost in the moment. i mean, think about it. it’s a no-brainer.

  4. Mike Bryant says:
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    They may have been deeply concerned about what was happening with the merger, according to a couple of sources. They were lost in worries about the future, while playing with way to many lives in the present.

  5. Joe Crumley says:
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    Jhenderson – I’m not touching your comment with a ten foot pole. No comment, except thanks for reading and commenting.

    Mike, that’s very true. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Big Al says:
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    …a late entry, but “hanging their hats” on the laptop story is tantamount to saying “We, together, as professional pilots, deliberately, purposely, and willfully disregarded our responsibilites to ourselves, the passengers, the company, and any other aircraft that happened to be out there while we “”frolic(d)”” (term used by FAA)on our laptops”.
    …not plausible, doesn’t hold water, didn’t happen. THE only thing that could explain everything reported was that the pilots were asleep. Not good! But believble, whereas the laptop story is not.