Initially, there was speculation that the pilots had fallen asleep in the cockpit. Both pilots dismissed that, saying they were not fatigued. Each had commuted to the flight, but they had a 19-hour layover in San Diego before arriving at work. They both told investigators that they did not doze during the flight and there was no heated argument.
Airport police who met the plane at the plane at the gate asked the pilots to submit to a alcohol breath test. Cheney and Cole both voluntarily agreed and the tests showed no traces of alcohol, according to the police report.
Capt. Cheney, 53, was hired in 1985 and has about 20,000 hours of total flight time including about 10,000 hours in an Airbus A-320, the plane he was flying the night in question. About 7,000 of those hours were as pilot in command of the A-320.
First Officer Cole, 54, was hired in 1997. His total flight time is about 11,000 hours and he has about 5,000 hours on the A-320.
As a point of comparison, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, the US Airways pilots who made an amazing emergency landing in the Hudson River, respectively had 19,633 and 15,000 flight hours.
Both Northwest pilots said they had never had an accident, incident or violation and neither reported any ongoing medical conditions.
The plane had an older, 30-minute cockpit voice recorder. The device, which loops every 30 minutes, only captured the pilots' decent into Minneapolis and taxi to the gate. The 1 hour and 18 minutes in question was recorded over as the tape routinely looped. Newer cockpit voice recorders capture the last two hours of flight.
With reports from Lisa Stark and Matt Hosford