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Pilots say they were using laptops

Report says pair focused on schedules when flight passed its destination

The two pilots who overshot a Minneapolis airport by 150 miles last week told federal investigators they did not doze off but admitted they were distracted while using personal laptop computers and discussing a new work schedule.

The Northwest Airlines pilots said they pulled out their laptops as they talked about how the schedule would function, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

Neither pilot on Flight 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis was aware of the airplane’s position until a flight attendant called through an intercom about five minutes before they were scheduled to land.

Both have been suspended pending the results of the investigation.

The captain, Timothy Cheney, 53, of Gig Harbor, Wash., and the first officer, Richard Cole, 54, of Salem, Ore., are veteran pilots who said they have no accidents or violations on their records.

The two pilots, who were interviewed for a total of five hours by investigators over the weekend, told the NTSB that they did not fall asleep on Wednesday’s flight, which carried 144 passengers and five crew members.

Rather, they told the NTSB that they used their laptops while discussing the new work schedule. The use of a personal computer in the cockpit is a violation of airline policy.

The first officer was more familiar with the scheduling procedure and was apparently instructing the captain, the report said. Delta Airlines bought Northwest Airlines last year and created a new consolidated work schedule for pilots and other members of its flight crews.

When air traffic controllers could not reach the pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration notified the military, which put Air National Guard fighter jets on alert at two locations. No jets were dispatched, however.

The pilots told the safety board that they heard radio communications through cockpit speakers but were so distracted by the discussion that they didn’t realize they had overshot the airport. When the pilots finally responded to the air traffic controllers they replied “just cockpit distractions” and “dealing with company issues.”

Atlanta-based Delta said Monday that using laptops or “engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots’ command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline’s flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination.”


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