It may still be some time before we find out what was really going on in the cockpit of the jet that operated as NW 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis. What is known is that for something over one hour, the plane was unresponsive to attempts to contact it by air traffic controllers and the company itself (via whatever means it has to communicate with planes in-flight). During this period of “running silent”, the plane overshot its destination and had to turn around to land in Minneapolis. And this, only after flight attendants had to bang on the cockpit door to get the crew to respond. Meanwhile, interceptor jets were apparently prepared to take-off to intervene. In the post-9/11 era, “intervention” includes the unthinkable possibility of a military jet shooting down a commercial airliner.
So-called experts called in by the media to speculate on what had gone wrong seemed to generally agree that the pilots had probably fallen asleep. They “reassured” us that it is not at all uncommon for pilots to fall asleep while flying. (Don’t you feel better knowing that?) But the pilots themselves claimed that they were embroiled in a heated argument and failed to hear the attempts to contact them. That explanation always seemed implausible to me. But now, their explanation has been revised to them both working on laptop computers, and were not aware of attempts to contact them. What!? We move from a verbal knock-down, drag-out, to simply a couple of people working on laptops and distracted to the point that for over an hour, they are unaware of the very radios they are required to listen and respond to? Do you suppose anyone is buying this? I’m not.
And now, according to reports I heard today, the cockpit voice recorder is…blank. Uh huh. When that voice recorder could corroborate one or another of the various “explanations” of what was going on in that plane, but now it cannot, I am lead to believe that there is yet another explanation that is far more embarrassing, or scandalous that neither pilot wishes to have disclosed and that is why they erased the recorder, which a report today said they could do, once they had landed the airplane.
All three scenarios that have been offered (sleep, argument, laptops) are utterly unsatisfying. Irrespective of which one it might be (or even another, yet to be reveled), these pilot have betrayed the trust of their employers, the agencies that license them to fly, and especially the passengers they are paid to safely deliver to their planned destinations. And given the catastrophic possibility of the plane having to be brought down by a fighter jet as a contingency against a terrorist hijacking the two pilots involved in this incident really should be planning on a new line of work. No matter what was REALLY going on in that plane.