Tired Skies: Pilot Fatigue and 'Crash Pads' Threaten The Safety Of Airline Passengers


In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the NTSB. There have been near misses, like a Mesa Airlines flight from Honolulu destined for Hilo, Hawaii, with 40 passengers and three crew aboard on Feb. 13, 2008, nearly a year to the day before the Continental 3407 crash. The plane flew past its destination without landing and headed out over the Pacific. The NTSB found that both pilots had fallen asleep and did not respond to calls from controllers for 18 minutes.

The ABC News report comes two years after the crash in Buffalo of Continental Connection flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, that killed 50 people. The pilot of the plane, who commuted to his Newark base from Florida, had spent the night before sleeping in a crew lounge at Newark airport, raising concerns about the role of fatigue with safety investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board. The co-pilot had commuted to work on overnight flights from Seattle and also tried to sleep in the crew lounge, unable to afford a hotel room.

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"We did recognize that they were likely impaired by fatigue," says Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB also found that about 70 percent of the Colgan Air pilots based at Newark were commuters, many coming from long distances to work. Approximately 20 percent commuted from more than 1,000 miles away.

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Victim's Father: 'I'm Infuriated It Hasn't Changed'

Two years later, little seems to have changed, based on what ABC News found.

"I'm infuriated it hasn't changed," said John Kausner, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Elly in the flight 3407 crash. The families who lost loved ones were in Washington D.C. Tuesday to urge Congress and the FAA to act.

"If airlines know their pilot is traveling they should be responsible for giving proper rest the evening before," said Kausner. "They should be responsible for making sure their pilots are fresh. It's common sense."

The so-called "crash pads" can be found within blocks of most major airports, part of an underground world that is secret only to the public. Inside one crash pad near LaGuardia airport in New York, stacks of triple-decker bunk beds are crammed into a room. There are 28 beds in all in a three-story row home -- "hot bunks" that rent for $25 a night.

"That's who their pilot is going to be," said one current pilot flying for a regional airline who took undercover videos and photos from inside airport crew lounges in New York and Philadelphia. "Do they want a well-rested pilot when they take that 6 a.m. flight out of Washington D.C. or do you want a guy who just slept in the crew room?"

Photos and video provided to ABC News by concerned pilots show where many are getting their rest at base, often in expensive hub cities where hotels and apartments -- even crash pads -- are expensive.

While many seasoned pilots say they can commute responsibly, arriving at their base city the day of their trip, other less senior pilots told ABC News they simply can't always afford to commute safely and arrive rested and ready to go.

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