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Mon, Dec 29, 2008

Pilots Admit Napping On go! Hilo Flight

Job Stress, Warm Sun Combined To Lull Crew To Sleep

A frenzied effort to get back on schedule, combined with a warm cockpit, are the reasons cited by one former go! Airlines pilot why he and his first officer fell asleep on a flight to Hilo, HI in February.

"Working as hard as we had, we tend to relax," the pilot told investigators, according to an 11-page National Transportation Safety Board report cited by USA Today. "We had gotten back on schedule, it was comfortable in cockpit, the pressure was behind us. The warm Hawaiian sun was blaring in as we went eastbound. I just kind of closed my eyes for a minute, enjoying the sunshine, and dozed off."

USA Today reports that's the first official confirmation the crew of Flight 1002 did, in fact, fall asleep for about 18 minutes... though the writing was clearly on the wall long before that.

As ANN reported, both pilots were grounded following the February 13 incident, in which the jet flew past Hilo at 21,000 feet and out to sea. Controllers first had difficulties contacting the crew about 15 minutes after the commuter flight left Honolulu on the 214-mile island hop; they were able to reestablish contact with the groggy crew only after their CRJ200 had overflown its destination.

The NTSB report does not identify the flight crew by their names, but FAA records reveal Captain Scott Oltman and First Officer Dillon Shepley were later suspended by the agency for careless and reckless operation. They were also fired by the Mesa Air Group subsidiary.

In addition to confirming what was pretty much a foregone conclusion, the NTSB report also reveals the details of how the event occurred. Captain Oltman told investigators he and the FO were stressed, after a flight attendant showed up late for their first flight of the day. The crew subsequently felt "rushed," as USA Today puts it, to get back on schedule.

By the time the crew's third flight of the day rolled around, they were more-or-less back on schedule... and as Oltman says above, the combination of easing tensions and the warm Hawaiian sun took its toll on both pilots.

Shepley, the flying pilot, was the first one to awaken. After checking the plane's course and fuel status, he woke the captain... who initially lied to controllers when queried why they had been unresponsive. "No, we must have missed a hand-off or missed a call or something," Oltman responded when asked if they needed to declare an emergency, according to the report.

After circling back and landing at Hilo, the crew told controllers they had dialed in the wrong comm frequency. Smelling a rat, controllers responded they would contact Mesa to report the incident.

Oltman and Shepley flew the return leg to Honolulu, after discussing between them whether they were fit to do so. But they removed themselves from flight line duty after that.

Following the incident, Oltman was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea, which causes those afflicted to repeatedly stop breathing while trying to sleep... a condition his physician said could cause "significant fatigue."

The captain also admitted he would take quick catnaps in the cockpit at least once a week in his short time flying for go!, and would nap more often while flying for Mesa in the continental US. That's not necessarily against the rules, as FAA regulations do allow for a "rest period" for one flight crew member during the cruise segment of the flight.

Shepley does not suffer from the same condition... but he told investigators he experienced a 'sleep-like state' during Flight 1002, in which he could "hear what was going on but could not comprehend or make it click."

FMI: www.mesa-air.com, www.ntsb.gov

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