Sleeping seen as more likely explanation for Flight 188

A glance around the land of the talking heads reveals few people who think the pilots of Northwest 188 were anything but asleep on Wednesday, when they flew 150 miles past Minneapolis St. Paul.

CNN’s John Roberts, though, gets some sort of award for wasted airtime for asking the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, “how dangerous is it if both pilots are asleep?”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows also figures they were asleep:

To avoid being coy about my “hypothesis,” it’s hard to imagine how this could have happened if the pilots were awake. There is too much going on in the last 45 minutes of a flight — with procedures for arrival, approach, and landing, many checklists — just to be “distracted.” So most likely either they both fell asleep in the normal sense or, weirdly, were both disabled in a way they then recovered from.

Jeff Skiles, the Wisconsin man who was the first officer on the plane that made the famous emergency landing in the Hudson River, said pilots can work up to 16 hours a day. “Truck drivers have more restrictive rules than we do,” he told WNYC’s The Takeaway. Skiles added another frightening observation — airliners don’t usually carry enough extra fuel for a 300 mile diversion, as this jet obviously did.

Indeed, everyone’s got an opinion — except for the White House. “”I’m not going to speculate on any of that,” Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters today. “I will just point you towards the FAA and the TSA.” The Christian Science Monitor is incredulous.

Burton’s got to be about the only one who isn’t talking about it. Of course, early in a story (especially if it’s embarrassing), the White House is going to do exactly this – throw the questions over to an agency.

Besides, this isn’t like when pilots on Air Force One scared half of New York when the White House Military Office decided they should divebomb Manhattan – without alerting the public – for a photo op last May.

This is entirely different. Still terrifying, but the White House had nothing to do with it (even Joe Biden).

Meanwhile, the pilots have been identified. Richard Cole, whose residence is Salem, Oregon, was the first officer. If the address is correct, it might lend some credence to the “sleeping” theory since Salem would require some commuting. Salem is more than 200 miles from Northwest’s Seattle hub. But Northwest’s pilot bases are Anchorage; Detroit; Honolulu; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The pilot was Tim Cheney of Gig Harbor, Washington.

  • tiredboomer

    I recognize the mistake these commercial pilots made could have been disastrous. They will rightly lose their jobs and never work in their chosen career again. What’s really sad about this incident is that these are probably a couple of great guys, fine citizens who have never intentionally hurt anyone, just made one VERY large mistake.

    Meanwhile commercial bankers, by taking unconscionable risks, have systematically devastated the economy and destroyed millions of lives and careers. And those commercial bankers remain in their “pilot’s seats”, lauded as the “smartest guys available”, the only ones capable or getting us out of the mess we’re in. They’re still in charge and still pulling down ever larger incomprehensible bonuses.

  • Travis

    There was a VERY smart newscaster from a minnesota station that made a comment on air Friday that stunned me. He must have spoken to a number of people from the airport or FAA.

    The comment was (in short) that ‘due to the extended length of the flight, and when the “complications” of the radio that were “reported” to the media and MSP (airport), anything that WOULD have been captured on the flight recorders (audio) would have been recorded over’ (due to the limited capacity).

    In the past, it was the “last 30 minutes”. I don’t know if the digital world has extended the time they can store or not.

  • Bob Collins

    It wasn’t me that you heard. However, for the record, I wrote that here around 10:30 this morning, about three hours before others reported the same thing.