Who flew? Both pilots slept on Baltimore to Denver red-eye
Two commercial pilots reportedly fell asleep on a flight between Baltimore and Denver, with one pilot waking up to "frantic" calls from...
DENVER — Two commercial pilots reportedly fell asleep on a flight between Baltimore and Denver, with one pilot waking up to "frantic" calls from air traffic controllers warning them they were approaching the airport at more than twice the speed allowed.
The incident occurred in March 2004 but was discussed during a congressional hearing Wednesday. The flight's captain reported it through NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows crew members to anonymously document incidents.
The system is designed to improve safety by allowing such reports to be made with identifying information removed.
Details of the "red-eye," or late night/early morning flight, including the airline, flight number and number of passengers aboard, are not included in the reporting system. The report did note the type of airplane, an Airbus A319, which is flown by Frontier Airlines and United Airlines.
United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy told the Rocky Mountain News, which first reported the incident, that United did not fly a "red-eye" between the two cities at the time and it had no reports of that incident.
Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas told the newspaper the airline had a "red-eye" flight at the time but could not find a report of the incident.
Federal Aviation Administration officials did not return a message.
The narrative in the report had this statement: "Last 45 mins of flt [flight] I fell asleep and so did the FO [first officer]."
The captain noted the plane was about 60 miles away from Denver International Airport and was approaching a point where it was to begin its descent when he woke up.
The plane was at 35,000 feet, much higher than required, and was going 608 mph, instead of the required 287 mph, for that point in the flight.
"I woke up, why I don't know, and heard frantic calls from ATC [air traffic control] ... I answered ATC and abided by all instructions to get down. Woke FO [first officer] up," according to the report.
He spiraled the jet to a lower altitude as ordered and landed "with no further incidents."
The pilot had been switched to three nights in a row of flying the overnight, eight-hour round trip.
While unable to find a report on the incident, Hodas said the airline received similar reports in the past and addressed them, noting that pilot fatigue is a bigger issue in the industry than the public realizes.
A 1998 report from NASA said that fatigue causes one in seven pilots to nod off in the cockpit; other experts suggested that was a conservative figure.
Material from Seattle Times archives was used in this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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