Two pilots flying at 37,000 feet fall asleep, miss runway to land

Updated on Aug 19, 2022 04:01 PM IST

Flight ET-343 continued following the route planned by the Flight Management Computer, without, however, descending. Air traffic controllers tried to contact the pilots several times but did not receive a response.

Flight ET-343 – a Boeing 737 – was scheduled to land at the Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia. (Representation purpose)(File Photo / REUTERS)
Flight ET-343 – a Boeing 737 – was scheduled to land at the Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia. (Representation purpose)(File Photo / REUTERS)
Written by Sharangee Dutta | Edited by Sohini Goswami, New Delhi

Two pilots flying a plane from Sudan to Ethiopia fell asleep when the aircraft was 37,000 feet above sea level, and missed their landing. The incident happened on Monday (August 15), and the pilots subsequently succeeded in safely landing the aircraft without reporting any injuries, according to The Aviation Herald.

Flight ET-343 – a Boeing 737 – was scheduled to land at the Addis Ababa airport. The Herald report said the aircraft continued past the top of descent and followed the route planned by the Flight Management Computer (FMC) without, however, descending.

The flight was on autopilot mode the whole time the pilots were asleep and failed to descend. The Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) tried to contact them multiple times but did not receive a response.

When the flight overflew the runway, the autopilot got disconnected, and sounded an alarm. It was this sound that finally woke the pilots up. They quickly maneouvered the aircraft and safely landed it nearly 25 minutes after overflying the runway.

The Herald report cited data from the Aviation Surveillance System (ADS-B), which said the flight overflew the runway and began to descend only later. The report also shared an image showing a de-tour loop taken by the flight around Addis Ababa, which can be considered as the maneouvering approach the pilots took after waking up from sleep.

After landing, the aircraft remained on the ground for around two-and-a-half hours before departing for its next journey.

Aviation analyst Alex Macheras tweeted about the incident, and shared the loop image, calling it “deeply concerning”.

“Deeply concerning incident at Africa’s largest airline — Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 #ET343 was still at cruising altitude of 37,000ft by the time it reached its destination Addis Ababa. Why hadn’t it started to descend for landing? Both pilots were asleep,” his post on the micro-blogging site read.

This incident comes after a similar one was reported to have taken place in April on a flight from New York to Rome, with as many as 250 passengers on board. According to ABC News, an investigation into the case found that both pilots of ITA Airways were allegedly sleeping in the cockpit as their plane flew 38,000 feet over France.

Investigators said that while one pilot slept during his designated sleeping break, the plane's captain fell asleep as well. ATC had lost contact with the aircraft for nearly 10 minutes, and even prepared fighter jets to intercept amid fears of a terror incident. However, the pilots eventually responded.

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