General AviationPilot wakes up 100 kilometres past airport

Pilot wakes up 100 kilometres past airport


The Aviator Africa Pilot wakes

A Queensland pilot fell asleep at the controls for 40 minutes and exceeded his intended airport by more than 100 kilometres. According to investigations, this was due to fatigue and mild hypoxia.

The pilot was in a Cessna 208B doing a ferry flight from Cairns and was due to land at Redcliffe Airport on July 2, 2020, but ended up at the Gold Coast, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report said.

Air traffic control diverted other planes close to the Cessna 208B, registration VH-DQP, to try to attract the pilot’s attention as he continued off-course towards Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

The incident started when air traffic control tried to contact the pilot about his planned descent into Redcliffe, but received no response.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the Australian Defence Force were alerted to the plane’s loss of communication.

A Royal Flying Doctor Service Beechcraft B200 aircraft, which was departing Brisbane, was asked to intercept VH-DQP.

The RFDS plane tried to attract the Cessna pilot’s attention by dipping the aircraft’s wings and flying close in an attempt to activate the Cessna’s traffic alert and collision avoidance system.

When neither attempts worked, the incident was elevated to a “distress phase” by air traffic control.

However, after 40 minutes without contact and about 111 kilometres south-south-east of Redcliffe, communications with the pilot of VH-DQP were re-established.

The ATSB report said that, “Air traffic control reported that the pilot sounded ‘groggy’ and ‘not really with it’ upon first contact and took a few minutes before slowly commencing the descent to 8000 feet [about 2430 metres]”.

The plane was instructed to land at Gold Coast Airport, despite the pilot wanting to turn back and head for Redcliffe, because the Gold Coast had runway lights and emergency services on standby.

He landed safely and declined medical treatment on the ground.

The ATSB found the pilot had climbed from 10,000 feet to 11,000 feet before his approach to Redcliffe after encountering icing conditions and poor visibility due to cloud.

“The ATSB found that the pilot was likely experiencing a level of fatigue due to inadequate sleep the night before and leading up to the incident,” the ATSB report said.

“Further, operating at 11,000 feet with intermittent use of supplemental oxygen likely resulted in the pilot experiencing mild hypoxia.

“This likely exacerbated the pilot’s existing fatigue and contributed to the pilot falling asleep.

“Upon waking up, the pilot was confused and had not realized how far off course the aircraft had flown [and] did not recall air traffic control advising that they had been out of communication.

“They [the pilot] did not take any medication or have any pre-existing medical conditions that would have contributed to the incident.”

The pilot involved had about 20,000 hours of flying experience and had 500 hours in the Cessna 208. The pilot had retired from full-time flying for 10 years and had been ferrying aircraft for about 12 years.

The ATSB noted similar incidents of pilots falling asleep at the controls.

One occurred on November 8, 2018, on a Piper PA-31-350 on a freight flight from Devonport to King Island in Tasmania, while the second incident took place on September 1, 2013, with the pilot of a Cessna 210 aircraft on a private flight from Port Macquarie to Bankstown in NSW.

Joan Kifuko
Joan Kifuko is a communications enthusiast that is currently working as a writer at The Aviator magazine where you find your aviation news in one place. She is a journalist that has previously worked as a sales associate, guest relations officer, brand ambassador hence, the love for new adventures and roles. Joan graduated with a Bachelors degree of science in journalism.

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