Two pilots working for Ethiopian Airlines were flying a Boeing 737 jet from Sudan to Ethiopia on Monday (August 15) morning when they both reportedly fell asleep at the controls, causing them to miss their landing.
Luckily, the sleeping pilots were jolted awake by an alarm when the plane overshot the runway and continued along the route.
According to the Aviation Herald, Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET343 was scheduled to land in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 6:20 a.m. local time after flying for two hours from Khartoum, Sudan.
Air traffic control in Ethiopia’s capital observed that the plane, which has a capacity of 154 passengers, remained at a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet rather than descending for the final approach.
A number of desperate attempts were made by air traffic controllers to communicate with the pilots, but they were unsuccessful.
Why hadn’t they started started descending to bring the passenger plane in for a landing?
Well, both of the pilots were asleep.
“We have received a report which indicates Ethiopian flight number ET343 en route from Khartoum to Addis Ababa temporarily lost communication with Addis Ababa Air Traffic Control on 15 August 2022,” reads a statement issued by Ethiopian Airlines on Friday.
“The flight later landed safely after communication was restored. The concerned crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation.”
“Appropriate corrective action will be taken based on the outcome of the investigation. Safety has always been and will continue to be our first priority,” the statement said.
According to the Herald, the autopilot on board the jet disengaged after it had already passed the runway without lowering, which triggered an alert that woke up the pilots who had been sleeping.
According to the data obtained by the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system, the refreshed pilots made a circle in the air and then re-approached the runaway 25 minutes later, and this time they were successful in landing the passenger plane safely.
Both pilots have reportedly been placed on administrative leave until the outcome of an investigation into the incident.
Alex Macheras, an aviation specialist, referred to the snooze during flight as “deeply disturbing” and blamed the situation on “pilot fatigue.”
“Pilot fatigue is nothing new, and continues to pose one of the most significant threats to air safety—internationally,” he said on Twitter.
The news comes just a few short months after pilots at Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines alerted executives at airline companies that pilot tiredness was on the rise, advising them to recognize and treat fatigue as well as the mistakes that occur from it as a safety hazard.
“Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association told airline executives in a letter back from April 2022.
According to the letter, one of the reasons for the rise in pilot tiredness is the increased demand for air travel as the industry continues to bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis. Another reason is the cancellation confusion brought about by extreme weather.
An article that was published in the Italian newspaper Repubblica in May 2022 also stated that an ITA pilot was terminated after “falling asleep” during a flight between New York and Rome.
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