MINNEAPOLIS – The first officer of the Northwest Airlines jet that missed its destination by 150 miles says he and the captain were not sleeping or arguing in the cockpit, but he wouldn’t explain their lapse in response and the detour.
“It was not a serious event, from a safety issue,” pilot Richard Cole said late Friday in front of his Salem, Ore., home. “I would tell you more, but I’ve already told you way too much.”
Air traffic controllers and pilots had tried for more than an hour Wednesday night to contact the Minneapolis-bound flight. Officials on the ground alerted National Guard jets to prepare to chase the airliner, though none of the military planes left the runway.
The jet with 144 passengers aboard was being closely monitored by senior White House officials, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told the Associated Press on Saturday. He didn’t say if President Barack Obama was informed.
Many aviation safety experts and pilots say the most likely explanation is that the pilots fell asleep along their route from San Diego. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said fatigue and cockpit distraction are factors that will be looked into.
“We were not asleep; we were not having an argument; we were not having a fight,” Cole said, but he would not discuss why it took so long for him and the flight’s captain, Timothy B. Cheney, of Gig Harbor, Wash., to respond to radio calls.
“I can tell you that airplanes lose contact with the ground people all the time. It happens. Sometimes they get together right away; sometimes it takes awhile before one or the other notices that they are not in contact.”
Messages left at Cheney’s home were not returned.
Federal Aviation Administration investigators were in the process Saturday of scheduling interviews with the pilots, Holloway said.