Pilot flew unconscious for 40 minutes after bad night's sleep and skipping breakfast

The plane was on autopilot

Cathy Adams
Friday 10 May 2019 14:11
Pilot Flew Unconscious for 40 Minutes When He Missed Breakfast

A pilot flew unconscious for 40 minutes in Australia, missing air-traffic control calls, when he missed breakfast the morning of the flight.

An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the trainee pilot hadn’t slept much the night before the flight and had only consumed a chocolate bar, an energy drink and some water.

The pilot was flying a solo navigation flight from Port Augusta airport in South Australia to Parafield outside Adelaide when the incident happened.

Around 40 minutes into the journey, while flying at 5,500ft, he got a headache, and switched the autopilot on.

“Shortly after, the pilot became unconscious,” said the report. He was then unconscious for 40 minutes.

Air-traffic control made multiple attempts to contact the pilot but were unsuccessful, said the ATSB. Another plane nearby then spotted the aircraft, which was then flying over water south-west of Adelaide, and reported that the pilot had regained consciousness.

The pilot then returned to Parafield under the other aircraft’s escort.

According to the report: “The pilot advised that the night prior to the flight he had suffered from a restless night of sleep and was recovering from a mild cold.

"On the day of the flight, the pilot did not consume any breakfast prior to departing from Parafield to Port Augusta.

“During the flight from Parafield to Port Augusta, the pilot only consumed a bottle of Gatorade, some water and a chocolate bar during the stopover in Port Augusta.

As a result of the investigation, the flight school said it would ensure students are well rested before a flight and emphasise the importance of fatigue management.

Students will also have to detail the amount of sleep they got in the previous 48 hours; when they last ate; and the type of meal it was, said the ATSB.

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