MINNEAPOLIS Minn. —Two Northwest Airlines pilots failed to make radio contact with ground controllers for more than an hour and overflew their Minneapolis destination by 150 miles before discovering the mistake and turning around.
The plane landed safely Wednesday evening, apparently without passengers realizing that anything had been amiss. No one was hurt.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the crew told authorities they became distracted during a heated discussion over airline policy and lost track of their location, but federal officials are investigating whether pilot fatigue might also have played a role.
The National Transportation Safety Board does not yet know if the crew fell asleep, spokesman Keith Holloway said, calling that idea "speculative."
Flight 188, an Airbus A320, was flying from San Diego to Minneapolis with 144 passengers and five crew. The pilots dropped out of radio contact with controllers just before 7 p.m. CDT, when they were at 37,000 feet. The jet flew over the airport just before 8 p.m. and overshot it before communication was re-established at 8:14 p.m., the NTSB said.
The FAA notified the military, which put Air National Guard fighter jets on alert at two locations.
As of Thursday afternoon, NTSB investigators had not yet examined the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, which were being sent to Washington for analysis. Holloway said the agency was also seeking to interview the pilots, but had not scheduled a meeting.