October 23rd, 2009
08:18 PM ET

Evening Buzz: Cockpit Mystery

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TRAVEL/10/23/airliner.fly.by/art.minneapolis.gi.jpg.jpg caption= "'Concern escalated' as Northwest Flight 188 neared Minneapolis at a high altitude, a spokesman for the controllers said."]

Maureen Miller
AC360° Writer

Federal investigators are trying to figure out why the pilot and first captain of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 flew 150 miles past their destination Wednesday night.

The pilot told controllers he was distracted.

Distracted for one hour and 18 minutes? Distracted enough to fly past the destination of Minneapolis and then have to make a u-turn? The answer to both questions is yes.

Though, it's unclear exactly what the distraction was in the cockpit.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the pilots didn't respond to air traffic control starting at 7:56 p.m. Eastern Time when they were at 37,000 feet and they stayed silent for 78 minutes.

It gets more mysterious. When the pilot finally answered traffic control his answers were so vague that controllers feared the plane had been hijacked. Fighter jets were ready to take-off in Madison, Wisconsin, but the order never came since the pilots eventually broke their silence.

The 100 plus passengers on board had no idea of the cockpit drama going on. Tonight on 360°, you'll hear from a passenger who talks about what they were told in flight. We'll also tell you why the cockpit voice recorder may not offer many clues.

Also tonight, hear from the defense attorney for Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in Texas for killing his three children in a fire. But more than half a dozen forensic scientists believe the evidence shows it wasn't arson. So, did the state kill an innocent man? 360's Randi Kaye has the new developments.

We also have a strange story out of Russia where an ice skating bear attacked two people. You read that right. We're talking about a bear wearing ice skates.

Join us for these stories and much more starting at 10pm ET. See you then!

Filed under: Maureen Miller • The Buzz
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. J.V.Hodgson

    There is a hand off amongst Ground controls, and confirmations required to signing off from ground control A to signing in to new ground control B. So where was major Tom!!??
    It should be fairly simple to set up a computer chip that sets off an alarm ( to be recorded in the flight recorder) if the sign "off" sign "in" radio responses are not made to ground controls from the plane within 5 minutes and that same is on a beeper to the Head steward ( non flight deck staff) of the flight, who can then check with the flight deck to see what the problem is and remain on flight deck until it is fixed.Jim Turning off the radio is serious breach of NTSB regulations and disciplinary action in all major airlines.
    Having said that what do you want..on long haul flights a couple of Pilots and an engineer who have to stay awake for 16-18hours or allow them to take nap while the plane is on auto pilot. For shorter haul flights the issue is what the employer demands. My guess is that currently a crew flies say from NY to LA in the am and then the same crew is expected to fly the plane back in the pm. LA to NY If so thats a problem as thats a 10-12 day minimum and could be greater with commuting times added. That lead to long term stress and "napping" being a risk.

    October 26, 2009 at 1:26 am |
  2. alice patterson

    Bears are not suppose to ice skate. Why people continue to take animals out of the wild and try to domesticate them in the most ridiculous ways is beyond me. Like the the chimp who attacked the owners friend, she really believed that her chimp was no longer a wild animal. There should be a federal law that no person can own or house any wild animal. I have empathy for the innocent people exposed to these animals, being maimed and killed. They're lead to believe these animals are safe to be around and the owners are in control. It may sound callus, but I don't feel the same for the owners.

    October 24, 2009 at 9:13 pm |
  3. cayo 001

    I'm wonder how long the company has to wait to report this huge delay in the flight, since that can cause a big delay in the others flight and where is the security.

    October 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm |
  4. noel

    they were asleep period there is no way they are talking and not able to listen to radio noise this is already their life in the flight deck for so long like music in there butt listen to radio contact

    October 24, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  5. Melanie

    There is no way in hell that these guys were awake! They were asleep! Unbelievable and makes me terrified to fly!

    October 24, 2009 at 2:20 am |
  6. ralph

    This airline is going thru a merger. Do NOT fly on merged airlines. Remember flight 255 Detroit to Phoenix 1987? NW merged with Republic. Check the facts. The pilots were arguing about salaries etc. Just a thought.

    October 24, 2009 at 2:15 am |
  7. matt

    If this has happend 3 times already and one plane crashed and the faa and all them don't know why then why don't they start putting cameras in the cockpit. Have it to record on little dvds in a black box and the can't turn them off I'd say that would help out a lot. But no matter what they are pros and have a lot of peoples family and loved ones in there hands. So there shouldn't be no excuses

    October 24, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  8. Beth

    Jim, I don't know what airline she flies for, but I'm glad it's not mine! I can tell you this, though – if I was working this flight I would have called the cockpit way before these flight attendants allegedly did. It simply makes no sense to me, as a flight attendant, that no one in the cabin was anxious about the 1 1/2 hrs of extra flight time, especially from the West Coast. We constantly call our pilots to get an ETA, especially if we start running late. Seems they might have been told earlier by the flight attendants, but needed a "buffer" to make sure the flight data recorder had runs its course and everything that actually happened during the "lost" time, was erased!!

    October 24, 2009 at 1:20 am |
  9. joyce

    I cannot believe we are having a discussion about allowing pilots to sleep on duty. How about they just show up for work, rested and prepared to earn their salaries like the rest of us??

    October 24, 2009 at 1:09 am |
  10. Debora

    Am a "senior" flt. attendant for a major airline and I suspect they fell asleep. Hard to talk thru the cell calls that would have come in, very loud the bell. No, F/A's don't come to the cockpit on a regular basis since 9/11. It is a hassle to put the barrier in place, possibly requiring one of us to be in the CP if a pilot leaves for the bathroom, the other F/A has to stand guard outside the door. All psgr. service comes to a halt, an inconvenience to them and us. We do call after our service to see if they need a bathroom break. Grant you, it seems odd the F/A's wouldn't have wondered why no descent was started and no announcement of descent from the pilots .
    I fly internationally so it is a bit different since there are one or two relief pilots, and since any flt over 8 hrs. they are allowed a rest break. Most pilots and F/A's commute from other states which also adds to fatigue. To get on a flt, space available, they usually leave on the first flt out of their home state even if the home base flt. leaves in the afternoon. Internationally they have been up for 10 hrs. before being on duty for a 13-15 hr. day. I live in CA and it's so expensive to live here most can't afford it.
    The FAA is not really for the psgr. but more so for the airline corporation. 9/11 could have been prevented if the FAA had ordered the airlines to install the Kevlar doors which are in presently–a major expense to the ailing industry.
    Fatigue happens, schedules aren't easy in this current climate. We all are flying more than we did 20 yrs. ago, for much less pay. To support ourselves, pilots included, we have to fly more which causes fatigue. Jet lag is accumulative. Mgt. refuses to realize that due to jet lag, crews can't always sleep on their layovers or even at home when you need to. As John Nance, the aviation consultant, states the FAA should allow pilots to alternate in taking a short rest break when fatigued. Better that they are alert for descent and landing vs. standing on some old rule or the horror of the NY crash on a regional jet this past winter. To admit sleeping would certainly mean their licenses would be revoked, so instead they concoct a story knowing that there might not be any way of proving otherwise.
    Well, will be interesting to see what happens.

    October 24, 2009 at 1:04 am |
  11. Todd

    This is quite the mystery. Has anyone mentioned or considered the famous "mile high club?" Is it possible there was sex going on in the cockpit, no pun intended? I was trying to think what could two people be doing that would so distract them that they wouldn't hear or would chose to ignore the various dings, bells, whistles and radio chatter that was going on in that cockpit as everyone seemed to be trying to contact them. Who knows? The pilots do, of course. I'm just wondering...

    October 23, 2009 at 11:18 pm |
  12. amanuel

    It is a mystery indeed, it was said that they were in a heated conversation but could it be a Romance?

    October 23, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  13. Zoe

    Put a bear on skates, teach it to please, then when it throws a tantrum, it's kaput! At least it got revenge before it had to go on unemployment. Died happy. Where's PETA on this? Quiet.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  14. Jenny

    If I was a bear,and some human made me wear ice skates,I believe I would go on a rampage too.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  15. David Habig

    I Am an ag pilot of 30 years I have never fell asleep while flying but i have came close. Doing the same thing every day does get a little mondane. I cane understand what happened no excusce, but it happens. What happened to center not to control more effecient or fax the stewardess or the stewardess knew how long flight took by serving time and did nothing. Before you blame the pilots co2 level should be checked, odd to me both pilots were both asleep at same time, as a pilot something else may be wrong. Please dont point blame until all truth is searched for. I know from experience we are the best to blame when it all goes bad. If people were killed in the Hudson , Sully never would have the chance to explaine the birds in engine.Now he is a hero, if we only knew how many other pilots did heroic things we or passengers never knew about. Please let them tell there stories

    October 23, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  16. David Johnson

    Could the Pilots have been staging a 78 minute form of "Silent Protest"over NWA's merger with Delta Airline later this year?

    Many NWA employees are unsure if their present jobs will translate on an economic par once the merger with Delta is final.

    It would be worth knowing if they simply have grievances with NWA and this action was the most "safely" effective way to display their displeasure and not put precious passengers at risk.

    I shudder to think how passengers would have been impacted had the Homeland Security escort jets been deployed.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:26 pm |
  17. Jeff Corey

    Air crew fatigue is one of the most serous threats to commercial aviation and the remedy is easy but costly to carriers – more rest time on layovers and shorter duty days. As an ex-flight attendant for a major airline, I have seen first hand the toll that a 14 1/2 hour duty day can take on both cockpit and cabin crew. Some take 20 minutes and lock themselves in the lavatory to fall into a deep REM sleep, some nod off at the controls and do not respond to phone calls from the cabin. My previous employer actually scheduled duty assignments that involve working from the west coast to Honolulu and back, with their only break being the time it takes to clean the plane and switch the galleys.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  18. Kitty Fraioli

    From now on I'll board with 6 packs of Red Bull for the pilots of my flights .

    October 23, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  19. Joe Stabb

    I'm curious as to what the flight attendants were doing during the flight. I used to be a flight attendant and always kept track of the time during the flight. If anything seemed out of the ordinary and I hadn't heard from the flight deck, then I would have been calling them to get a status update. That is part of the communication training for the flight crew. Were the flight attendants trying to call the flight deck? Were they even paying attention to the flight?

    October 23, 2009 at 10:13 pm |
  20. Jim

    My girlfriend's a flight attendant and says they turn off the radio and nap all the time, especially on long flights. Unbelievable that the FAA lets this go on. Or maybe they were taken by aliens?

    October 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  21. Robert Cartwright

    This was crazy pilot was asleep I bet

    October 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  22. Annie Kate

    Distracted for an hour and a half? Would there have been no stewardness going up to the pilots seats to take them something in that amount of time to where if they had been asleep she would have awakened them? They may have gotten distracted by some instrument behaving erratically and trying to figure out what was going on with it – you can spend more time than you realize on something like that; I would more expect this than falling asleep – especially all the cockpit crew falling asleep that close to their destination. Be watching to see if the cause has been identified for sure!! Have a great weekend!!

    October 23, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  23. Michelle

    I certainly would not have wanted to be on the plane.
    Something distracted the pilots but I don't think it was
    sleep. I wonder about the skill of the pilots.

    October 23, 2009 at 9:27 pm |