Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sweet Dreams


Don’t take for granted the importance of a good night’s rest


In August, the Safety Board finished its investigation into the February 13, 2008, incident involving a Mesa Airlines regional jet flying from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, with two pilots, a flight attendant and 40 passengers on board. During the flight, both pilots fell asleep and the airplane overflew its destination airport, winding up over the ocean. The Bombardier CL-600-2B19 was being operated by Mesa as Go! Flight 1002. The flight crew’s communications with ATC during departure from Honolulu had been routine. At about 9:30 a.m., the captain had contacted the Honolulu Control Facility and reported climbing through 11,700 feet to the FL210 cruise altitude. A controller acknowledged this transmission and cleared the flight to proceed direct to the PARIS intersection, near the island of Hawaii. The captain acknowledged the clearance, but the flight didn’t change course.

At 9:33 a.m., the controller repeated the clearance. The captain again acknowledged and the flight’s track turned toward PARIS. Both pilots later stated that soon after they received this clearance, they inadvertently fell asleep in the cockpit. The captain stated, “Working as hard as we had, we tend to relax.” He further stated, “We had gotten back on schedule, it was comfortable in cockpit, the pressure was behind us. The warm Hawaiian sun was blaring in as we went eastbound. I just kind of closed my eyes for a minute, enjoying the sunshine, and dozed off.” The first officer said he entered a sleeplike state from which he could “hear what was going on, but could not comprehend or make it click.”

At 9:40 a.m., as the flight was crossing the island of Maui, the controller radioed a frequency change, but there was no reply. For the next 18 minutes, the control facility tried fruitlessly to contact the airplane. At 9:51 a.m., the airplane reached the PARIS intersection and the autopilot turned it southeast toward the Hilo VOR. The controller handling the flight asked another controller to try to raise the flight on a different frequency; the other controller tried, but got no reply. Flight 1002 crossed the Hilo VOR and the destination airport, Hilo International. It continued southeast at FL210, crossed the northeast coast of Hawaii and flew out over the open ocean. ATC asked other Go! pilots to try to raise Flight 1002, but they received no reply. In addition, a Continental Airlines flight tried on an emergency frequency, but also was unsuccessful.

Around this time, the first officer woke up. The first officer woke the captain and told him ATC was attempting to contact the flight. At 9:58 a.m., the captain radioed ATC. When the controller asked whether they were experiencing an emergency, the captain reported, “No, we must have missed a handoff or missed a call or something.” ATC then gave the flight vectors back to Hilo, where it landed safely.

Investigators reported that the captain told FAA personnel by telephone that radio communications had been lost because the crew had selected an incorrect radio frequency. He subsequently had a discussion with the first officer about whether they should operate the next flight. The pilots agreed that it would be safe for them to do so because they were feeling very alert as a result of the incident. According to company records, they departed Hilo to return to Honolulu on the incident airplane as Flight 1044. During the flight back to Honolulu, the pilots discussed the incident further and decided to remove themselves from duty after landing. Later in the day, the captain wrote a report to the airline about what had happened.



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