FAA releases audio of wayward airline flight

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.

Some of the transcripts’ contents — such as the pilots’ first explanation for why they were out of radio contact for 77 minutes on the Oct. 21 flight — were already known. But the transcripts also show air traffic controllers’ exasperation at their inability to reach the pilots.

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. “Ya 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.”

Later, a controller told the pilots “I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure.”

“It is secure; we got distracted,” the pilots replied — but flight controllers led the plane through various maneuvers to verify that.

Asked for a “brief explanation” of why they had dropped out of radio contact, they replied: “Ah (just) cockpit distractions, that’s all I can say.”

The pilots later told investigators they became distracted when they were looking at the company’s new scheduling policy on personal laptops, a violation of company policy.

The FAA has revoked the licenses of Capt. Timothy Cheney, 53, of Gig Harbor, and First Officer Richard Cole, 54, of Salem, Ore., saying they acted “carelessly and recklessly.” The pilots have appealed.

Delta Air Lines, which operates Northwest as a subsidiary, has suspended the pilots.

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