Fox News is reporting that Flight 188 — the Northwest Airlines flight that overshot its Minneapolis destination a few weeks ago — was out of radio contact for three hours.
Sources told FOX News there were three NORDO’s — or non-contacts — the first one occurring shortly after the plane reached cruising altitude out of San Diego. The military was not notified until after the third NORDO — which occurred as the plane approached Minneapolis.
If the insinuation that this is one big hunk of silence is true, it undercuts the pilots’ story that they were too busy on their laptops and it undercuts the assertion of others that they probably fell asleep from the sheer boredom of flying an airliner these days.
A better explanation? Fox News is wrong.
According to the report, the plane lost contact shortly after reaching cruising altitude. That occurred at 5:30 p.m. (Central Time) according to the flight log.
But at 6:18 p.m., the flight changed altitude from 35,000 feet to 37,000 feet. That couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened without an instruction from the ground.
In addition, the FAA letter to the pilots that revoked their licenses said this (click for a larger view):
That’s a typical controller handoff and would not have occurred that way if the pilots weren’t talking to him or her. And that means the flight must have been also handed off properly from controllers in Albuquerque at 6:36 p.m., about 50 minutes earlier.
The letter from the FAA piled on about as much on the two pilots as any letter ever sent to a pilot, and yet it mentioned nothing about losing radio contact earlier in the flight. And all the evidence points to the original story being correct.
At 8:16 p.m., the flight began a descent, the first indication that the pilots were back in control of the airplane and communicating. That’s 52 minutes.
There may well have been periods when the pilots didn’t answer a particular call. But that’s not at all unusual, and it’s not a story.