Patterico's Pontifications


FAA Releases Northwest Cockpit ATC Recordings

Filed under: Air Security — DRJ @ 11:30 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Remember the Northwest Airlines jet traveling from San Diego to Minneapolis that overshot its destination and did not respond to radio contacts for over an hour? Today the FAA released the cockpit ATC recording and transcript:

“The Oct. 21 flight had been out of contact for 77 minutes before the pilots responded. The pilots told controllers right away that they had been distracted, but didn’t give details, according to the transcript of their radio conversations released by the Federal Aviation Administration.

After almost 90 seconds of conversation about the route they should take to Minneapolis, the controllers said, “I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure.”

“It is secure, we got distracted,” one of the pilots responded. The transcript says the pilot then said that they never heard a call from the ground.

A different controller took over and, after five more minutes of directions about routes and altitudes, asked, “Do you have time to give a brief explanation on what happened?”

“Cockpit distractions that’s all I can say,” was the response from Northwest Flight 188.

About 12 minutes after contact had been re-established, the same controller asked, “is there any way you can elaborate on the distraction?”

The pilot said that they were dealing with some company issues, and that’s “all I can tell you right now at this time,” according to the transcript.”

Fox News has audio here, including a suspicious pause before the pilot responded to an FAA request that they elaborate on what happened:

The good news is the FAA had the crew perform several turns to verify they were in control of the aircraft. The bad news is the air controllers did not notify the military of a problem aircraft for 69 minutes, a possible violation of post-9/11 regulations. Unfortunately, the FAA also delayed releasing this information until Black Friday when it may not get the attention it deserves.


11 Responses to “FAA Releases Northwest Cockpit ATC Recordings”

  1. The FAA flight controllers have short memories or maybe they weren’t on the job on 9/11. I don’t know what the regs say about the length of time needed to elapse before they raise red flags, but I hope it’s shorter than 69 minutes.

    FrankM (2352be)

  2. How exactly does performing “turns” prove they’re in control, though? Someone has a gun to your head, and just enough knowledge of a cockpit to read a compass heading. They tell you to do the turn, or else. (Or they have a knife to a stew’s throat, etc…)

    Unless there’s a ‘secret handshake’ involved where the FAA ordering turn to XXX in such conditions actually means something like XXX-10 or whatnot, I don’t see how this proved anything.

    rtrski (933d3e)

  3. Get used to this sort of thing under this administration. The enemy is watching and looking for every chink in our armor. I hope it doesn’t take another 9/11, or worse, to wake the American people up to the mess we’re in.

    Throw the bums out in ’10, the rest of them out in ’12 and any left over…. impeach them. Take. Our. Country. Back.

    PatriotRider (1729de)

  4. I’m currently arguing with my wife about this – she’s of two minds on the matter, on one hand she thinks that the pilots obviously screwed up and should be suspended, but also said that it’s fairly easy for pilots to get distracted up there. I feel that regardless of their situation, they should have their licenses revoked permanently – and the air controllers should lose their jobs immediately. There is no margin for error anymore up there, and to pretend otherwise is whistling in the dark.

    Dmac (a964d5)

  5. Comment by Dmac — 11/28/2009 @ 7:37 am

    If something like this had happened at SAC during LeMay’s tenure there,
    heads would have rolled before the wheels of the aircraft touched down, and careers would have ended.
    But then, he was only charged with the defense of the Free World, nothing as important as creating a Socialist Amerika.

    AD - RtR/OS! (764e2c)

  6. Lemay was a genius, and deserves much credit for ending the war with Japan much earlier than was presumed. However, he was also a huge fanatic and extremely dogmatic – he was entirely wrong concerning the employment of Trident Missiles in order to counter the Soviets after the war. He was resolute in his conviction that we needed to only rely on his bombers, which were quickly rendered almost obsolete in the ensuing years. Yeltsin’s release of internal Politboro communications confirmed how critical that step was in our defense of the free world – and Eisenhower deserves credit for taking that crucial action.

    Dmac (a964d5)

  7. Just a heads-up. Those are not “cockpit recordings”. What are being released are ATC (air traffic control) recordings, which only record what the Captain and First Officer, along with air traffic control, discussed over the radio.

    If we actually had the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) audio then we’d be able to hear EXACTLY what was going on. The CVR is basically like having a tape recorder in the cockpit. Its microhpone picks up all the sounds(discussions, engine noise, switches being flipped, etc.) from the cockpit. I believe that this plane had the 30 minute CVR and by the time the plane landed, the portion of the recording containing the “distraction” was erased.

    BTW, the FAA generally does not release CVR audio to the public (although transcripts of the CVR are released, after an accudent, by the NTSB via their reports).

    ATC audio is public since it’s transmitted unencrypted….

    [Jason – Thank you very much. I had a feeling when I wrote this that I was describing it incorrectly, but I couldn’t find the right terminology. I’ve corrected the post. — DRJ]

    Jason (ded44d)

  8. Comment by Dmac — 11/28/2009 @ 9:05 am

    When one is charged with a goal that is of vital interest to a great many, dogmatic is sometimes good.

    AD - RtR/OS! (764e2c)

  9. “…and Eisenhower deserves credit for taking that crucial action.”

    Isn’t that why Ike always had more stars on his shoulders (though, compared to Stevenson, he sounded so “stupid”)?

    AD - RtR/OS! (764e2c)

  10. Funny, isn’t it, that the more the years pass, the more Ike looks like a genius in so many ways. I seem to recall similar sentiments initially said about Truman, then Reagan – I think history will eventually be quite complimentary of the Bush years.

    Dmac (a964d5)

  11. Cherchez les femmes.

    nk (df76d4)

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