Missing a highway exit, thus driving well past it and needing to turn around may be common, particularly if a driver is feeling spaced out and road hashed. Missing an airport, thus flying past it, is unusual. Even so, it happened this past Wednesday. A Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 overshot Minneapolis where it was heading.
Luckily, the plane only went 150 miles further before the pilots realized their mistake and turned around. I guess they must have missed the fact the landscape below had turned from rural to suburban to urban. Minneapolis does have impressive architecture and it’s not small. How do you not notice a city?
Overshooting Minneapolis wasn’t the pilots only mistake. They didn’t contact radio controllers for over an hour. Because of this, the Air National Guard was alerted to be on stand-by and airport police met the plane when it landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport. Police involvement is standard procedure when there is a communication failure.
As an explanation for the big whoops!, the pilots said they were distracted by a heated discussion they were having about airline policy. That must have been some discussion.
There is a possibility that the pilots may have been suffering from pilot fatigue which caused these errors. They could have been taking a snooze. Whether it was fatigue or a heated discussion, the pilots are suspended from flying during the investigation.
As for the 144 passengers, they didn’t know anything was amiss until the police showed up.
I can imagine those people who had scrambled to get their bags out of the overhead bin before the seat belt sign went off thinking when they saw the police board the plane, “Wow, I won’t do that again. I promise I’ll keep my seat belt fastened and wait for that last ding. I swear I will.” [Bloomberg.com]
*The photo is of an aerial shot of Minneapolis. Along with the tall buildings, it seems like the water could be a nifty visual cue to keep in mind when flying to Minneapolis.