A small plane overshot its destination in Australia by almost 50 kilometres because the pilot fell asleep in the cockpit, national air safety officials said Tuesday.
The pilot was the only person on board the Vortex Air freight flight from Devonport city in Tasmania to King Island, an island between Tasmania and the Australian mainland, on November 8.
It is not clear how the pilot was awakened before safely landing the twin-engine Piper PA-31 turboprop aircraft on a morning flight.
‘During the cruise, the pilot fell asleep, resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46 kilometres,’ said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is investigating the incident, classified as a case of ‘incapacitation.’ The ATSB said in a statement it will interview the pilot and review operating procedures before releasing a final report next year.
The plane has a cruising speed of around 380 kilometres per hour and a range of about 1,900 kilometres.
Neil Hansford, the chairman of airline consultancy Strategic Aviation Solutions, said Tuesday the aircraft would have been on autopilot.
‘The aircraft will fly until it runs out of fuel, or in some cases the fuel tanks have to be switched over, so once it's starved of fuel it then crashes,’ Hansford told Australian broadcaster ABC.
He said it would be unusual for a pilot to fall asleep on a relatively short flight of about 240 kilometres.
He also said Australia has strict rules relating to pilot fatigue.
‘There is no way in the world that someone should've taken on that flight fatigued,’ he said.
Vortex Air, a 25-year-old Australian company that runs flights in Tasmania, has been asked for comment.
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