The cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Northwest Airlines Flight 188 may yield clues in the investigation.
Federal investigators on Monday may interview flight attendants from a Northwest Airlines jet that overshot the runway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last week by 150 miles, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The report identified the pilot as Timothy B. Cheney and the first officer as Richard I. Cole. “The pilot … indicated they had become involved in conversation and had not heard radio communications,” the report said. “They indicated there had been no involvement from anyone in the cabin.” The report added, “Both volunteered to a preliminary breath test, with the result being .000 for both parties.” The lead flight attendant told officers she was unaware there had been an incident aboard, according to the report. Police who met the wayward jet said the pilots were “cooperative, apologetic and appreciative.” The NTSB is hoping the plane’s cockpit voice recorder either will confirm the pilot’s account or provide evidence of another possible explanation, including whether the captain and first officer fell asleep. On Friday, Cole, the first officer, told CNN affiliate KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon: “Nobody was asleep in the cockpit and no arguments took place.” Cole apparently was referring to an earlier NTSB statement that “the crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness.” Interviewed outside his Salem, Oregon, home, Cole said, “There’s a lot of misinterpretation going on.” He refused to comment further. Watch the co-pilot speak The voice recorder is capable of recording only 30 minutes of audio, federal accident investigators said. The plane was in the air for another 45 minutes after radio contact was restored, meaning that if the recorder was working properly, anything the pilots would have said during the time they weren’t answering radio calls would have been recorded over. But a former accident investigator said the voice recorder may still provide valuable information, because the pilots could have discussed the earlier events on the way back to Minneapolis after overshooting the airport. The flight data recorder also could prove valuable because it would have recorded actions taken by the pilots during the 78 minutes they did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers, the ex-investigator said. The safety board said Friday experts were reviewing the solid-state voice recorder. It said only that the recorder “captured a portion of the flight that is being analyzed” and added there would be no further comment. Meanwhile, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which scrambled fighter jets for the wayward plane but did not launch them, said it was reviewing procedures for launching the fighters to track potentially hijacked or suspicious aircraft. At issue is the Federal Aviation Administration’s apparent delay in notifying NORAD the Northwest jet was not in contact with controllers, according to a senior U.S. official directly familiar with the timeline of the incident. Watch how the military is looking at a possible FAA delay The official, who declined to be identified because the military and the FAA are reviewing the incident, said the FAA’s request for military involvement came after the plane passed the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. NORAD scrambled fighter jets at two locations. But as they approached the runway for takeoff, the FAA reported being back in contact with the Northwest flight, and the fighters stayed on the ground. “My real question is why we did not know of the ‘radio out’ situation from the FAA sooner,” the official said. “The FAA is also looking into that,” the official said. Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, NORAD has regularly launched fighter jets to track aircraft in unusual situations such as when they deviate from flight plans, lose radio contact or enter restricted airspace. According to a second U.S. official, NORAD is in constant contact with the FAA so it can respond when situations arise.CNN’s Mike M. Ahlers and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.