Pilot fell asleep and missed airport, officials say

Flight data shows aircraft missed island and had to turn back

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 27 November 2018 12:16 GMT
Pilot fell asleep during a flight between Tasmania and King Island and missed airport

A pilot in Australia fell asleep at the controls and overshot his flight landing, according to officials.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating an incident of “pilot incapacitation” after a flight between Tasmania and King Island carried on going and had to turn back.

According to a statement from ATSB: “During the cruise the pilot fell asleep resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46km.”

Tracking data shows the flight landed safely on the morning of 8 November despite its slight detour.

However, it is being treated as a “serious operational incident” by the ATSB. Investigators will interview the pilot, collect evidence and review the company’s procedures before submitting a final report.

The investigation is expected to be completed by March 2019.

The aircraft, a Piper PA-31 Navajo VH-TWU, was operated by Vortex Air and seats just nine people, performing multiple flights per day. Data uncovered by The Australian revealed the plane flew seven journeys on 8 November, including the one in which the pilot was “incapacitated”.

Pilots fall asleep “at the wheel” far more often than passengers might think.

More than half (56 per cent) of pilots admitted to dropping off while in charge of a plane, according to a 2013 survey by union Balpa.

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Of those who admitted to falling asleep, 29 per cent also said they had woken up before to find their co-pilot asleep as well.

According to experts, not getting enough sleep is more of a safety issue for pilots than napping in the cockpit.

“No aircraft in the history of aviation has crashed because a pilot has gone to sleep at the controls,” says David Learmount, a former RAF Hercules pilot and safety editor at trade magazine Flight Global, told The Guardian at the time. “It’s never happened. On the other hand, crashes that have resulted from fatigue? There are many, many, many of those.”

It’s usually not a huge problem as the aircraft is being flown on autopilot at the time. However, considering the flight from Tasmania to King Island is only about 45 minutes long, it might not be the most sensible time to have a kip.

The Independent has contact Vortex Air for comment.

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