Homeland Security chief avoids Flight 188 intercept question

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, punted today when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer asked when FAA officials notified homeland security officials that a jetliner was heading for Minneapolis St. Paul and officials didn’t know for sure who was in control of it.

“There are protocols in place for when actual military planes are used in situations like this,” Napolitano said.

“What you’re asking me involves a commercial plane involves another type of dimension and the NTSB is doing an investigation. Rather than announce it now, we should await the results of the investigation.”

The NTSB investigation does not involve the response time or the coordination of air defense response to it.

By the way, here’s what it looks like when military jets intercept an aircraft. If it’s night-time, would those flares have caught the attention of a napping/Web surfing/laptop searching set of pilots?

The Northwest debacle, and a Delta jet that landed on a taxiway in Atlanta instead of the runway, has refocused attention on the “human factors” of getting us from Point A to Point B.

And so has the Air France crash months ago on a Brazil to Paris flight. Just this week, in fact, the debate internally over whether a crew error or faulty equipment cost the lives of hundreds of people spilled out in the open.


In a strongly worded internal memo, Air France has warned its pilots to be more vigilant about safety procedures and upbraided those blaming flight equipment for the crash of Flight 447 into the Atlantic in June.

No one knows what caused the accident, which killed all 228 people aboard and was Air France’s deadliest crash. Pilots’ unions said Saturday the company is trying to distance itself from blame — and shift attention to the possibility of human error — as the investigation drags on.

“Enough Scandals and False Debates about Flight Security!” reads the memo, sent to pilots Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday. It dismisses calls by pilots for new safety procedures following Flight 447′s crash. “It suffices simply to apply our doctrine, our procedures,” the memo says.

  • BJ

    So who took the video and why were they being intercepted?

  • Bob Collins

    A guy was just flying along when the pilots contacted him and asked if they could practice their intercept procedures on him.

    Intercepts are not to shoot planes down. They’re to get a pilot’s attention and initiate communication. Pilots know that when you’re intercepted, you tune your radio to 121.5 and start communicating with them.

  • Philip Rickey

    Dear Bob Collins and MPR,

    I have been following the story about the two Northwest pilots who were engrossed with their laptops instead of paying attention in the cockpit last week. I think that it is good that they have had their pilot licenses revoked.

    I have, however, heard almost no discussion or commentary about the near miss that happened on the taxiway at the Atlanta Airport. That Delta flight crew, passengers and plane were, I think, in much greater danger due to the inadvertent error of those pilots. The fact that nothing happened is because they were extremely lucky there were no other planes on the taxiway at that moment. Are those two pilots being investigated by the NTSB and the FAA? I think they certainly should be. What about the Atlanta ground control? Did they know that that Delta flight was lined up to land on a taxiway? If not, why not? If it is found that those two pilots violated rules and protocols, they, too, should have their pilots licenses revoked. Why haven’t we heard anything about this story?

    I am a frequent flyer mainly on Northwest, I am never afraid when I fly. Maybe I should be. Though the errors exhibited on flight 144 were terrible and could have ended in disaster at 37,000 feet I feel that based on my limited experience the fact that the Delta plane avoided a catastrophic accident at the Atlanta airport is a miracle.

    Bob collins, I would be interested to find out what kind of investigation is being done of the Atlanta landing travesty.

    Thank you very much.

    Philip Rickey

  • Georgia

    //Bob collins, I would be interested to find out what kind of investigation is being done of the Atlanta landing travesty.

    Thank you very much.

    Philip Rickey

    I would like to know also!!

  • Bob Collins

    Hi Philip:

    Pretty much the same process as in this Twin Cities case. (I wrote about it a week ago after it happened). The NTSB sent, I believe, four investigators on the team to Atlanta.

    The pilots have been relieved of their flying duties.

    One critical aspect of the investigation, I think, will be why the approach lights for runway 27R — the runway they were supposed to land on — were not turned on.