Newly released transcripts from Northwest Airlines flight 188 -- the plane that went silent for a frightening hour on Oct. 21 -- show worried controllers trying repeatedly to reach the crew, and the pilots, realizing they had overshot their destination, sheepishly calling in for landing instructions.
"Ah, roger, ah, we got, ah, distracted and we've overflown, ah, Minneapolis. We are overhead Eau Claire and would like to make a one-eighty and do arrival from Eau Claire," says the pilot.
Northwest 188 was on a routine flight from San Diego to Minneapolis-St. Paul. The pilots later admitted to investigators that they had opened their personal laptops to figure out a new scheduling system. They overshot their destination by 150 miles.
"Northwest 188, if you hear Minneapolis center, ident," calls an air traffic controller -- one of numerous unanswered calls made to the plane on the transcripts, just released by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"I don't know ya can't reach him at all, that's crazy," says another controller at one point.
On the transcripts, controllers call other Northwest planes, trying to see if they can get the attention of the pilots.
"Northwest 196, ah, do you have a second to contact your company Northwest 188?"
"Denver tried going through a flight" says a Minneapolis controller, "and then my supe [supervisor] went through the company and he's still Nordo."
"Nordo" is shorthand for "no radio." The pilots of flight 188 did not reply to repeated voice calls or text messages.
Military Jets Almost Scrambled
Concern on the ground steadily grew. Federal counterterrorism agencies treated the stray jetliner as a serious threat, thinking it possible the plane had been hijacked. Fighter jets were placed on alert, though they never took off.
Meanwhile, high over Wisconsin, neither pilot was aware of the airplane's position until a flight attendant, Barbara Logan, called about five minutes before they were scheduled to land and asked about their estimated time of arrival. It was only then that the captain realized they had passed the airport.
"I just called them and said when are we landing, and that was it," Logan told ABC News in the aftermath.
Finally, the pilots of flight 188 placed the anxious call to the control center for the Minneapolis region.
Northwest 188: 'We Got, Ah, Distracted'
According to the transcripts, a controller in Minneapolis gives the crew permission to turn, "and, um, we'll see if we can't get you in."
A moment later: "You can stay right here on this frequency," says the controller, "and I have to verify that the cockpit is secure."
"It is secure," replies the pilot. "We got distracted, we were, ah ... [unintelligible] never heard a call we were just [unintelligible]."
"Do you have enough fuel to hold or do you need to, ah, get into Minneapolis?" asks the controller.
"We're good on fuel," answers the crew. "We could hold. We'd just as soon go right in if we could."
The ground asks twice for more information on what happened. "Northwest 188, is there any way you can elaborate on the distraction?"
"Ah, we're just dealing with some company issues here," answers the pilot, "and that's all, that's all I can tell you right now at this time."
In separate interviews with the NTSB after the incident, Capt. Timothy B. Cheney and First Officer Richard I. Cole told investigators they were in a "concentrated period of discussion" over a new monthly crew flight scheduling system in place as a result of the merger of Delta and Northwest. Both accessed and used his personal laptop computer while they discussed the airline crew flight scheduling procedure. Cole, who was more familiar with the procedure, was providing instruction to Cheney, the NTSB said.
Flight 188 had 144 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants on board. It landed safely about an hour after its originally scheduled time. Both pilots have since had their flying licenses revoked.