MINNEAPOLIS — The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday released transcripts and audio recordings detailing the efforts made to reach the pilots of Northwest Airlines Flight 188, which dropped out of radio contact and overshot the Twin Cities last month.
At 7:58 p.m., as the plane flew over the Twin Cities, a controller said: "I don't know what their procedure is if they... can't talk to anybody. Do they just hold over the airport?"
"No, I don't know," a second controller replied. "You can't reach him at all; that's crazy."
They agreed to just watch the plane for the time being.
When the pilots finally broke their radio silence at 8:14 p.m. over Eau Claire, Wis., they told controllers that "we got distracted, and we've overflown Minneapolis" and "would like to make a 180 and do arrival from Eau Claire."
The Oct. 21 flight had been out of contact for 77 minutes before the pilots responded. The pilots told controllers right away that they had been distracted, but didn't give details.
After almost 90 seconds of conversation about the route they should take to Minneapolis, the controllers said, "I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure."
"It is secure, we got distracted," one of the pilots responded. The transcript says the pilot then said that they never heard a call from the ground.
A different controller took over and, after five more minutes of directions about routes and altitudes, asked, "Do you have time to give a brief explanation on what happened?"
"Cockpit distractions that's all I can say," was the response.
About 12 minutes after contact had been re-established, the same controller asked, "Is there any way you can elaborate on the distraction?"
The pilot said that they were dealing with some company issues, and that's "all I can tell you right now at this time," according to the transcript.
Air traffic controllers ultimately had the pilots perform several turns to verify that they were in control of the plane. It landed safely in Minneapolis, and was met at the gate by police.
The FAA has said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, controllers have been told to alert the military when a plane goes out of contact for five to 10 minutes. They waited for 69 minutes in this instance, a delay that FAA head Randy Babbitt has called "unacceptable." The agency has said it will strengthen procedures for alerting the military when controllers lose contact with planes.
The pilots have told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were discussing their company's complicated new crew-scheduling program over their laptop computers as their plane flew past Minneapolis by 150 miles.