Pilot in control of plane falls asleep and misses destination by 46 km

A pilot missed their destination by 46 kilometres after falling asleep in the cockpit.

The pilot was flying a freight plane in Tasmania when the incident occurred at about 7.15am on November 8.

The PA-31-350 was flying from Devonport Airport to King Island Airport, northwest of mainland Tasmania, and there were no passengers aboard the flight when the incident occurred.

“The pilot, who was the only person on board, fell asleep resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46 km,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said in an investigation summary.

The flight was operated by Vortex Air, a charter flights company based at Moorabbin Airport, 45 minutes southeast of Melbourne. 

The charter company is investigating the “extremely rare occurrence” and said it was the pilot’s first flight after returning from a period of leave.

“On 8 November 2018, a company pilot conducting a Vortex Air flight from Devonport to King Island unintentionally fell asleep while in command of the aircraft,” Mr Colin Tucker, the managing director of Vortex Air, said in a statement sent to Yahoo7 on Tuesday.

The pilot was flying a PA-31-350 aircraft (same model pictured) from Devonport Airport to King Island Airport in Tasmania. Source: Getty (file pic)

“The issue became apparent when Air Traffic Control was unable to contact the pilot in-flight, and the aircraft travelled past the intended destination point while operating on autopilot.

“The pilot safely landed the aircraft at King Island airport.”

The charter company said it was the first scheduled flight for the day and subsequent flights were not affected.

It confirmed the pilot was the only person on board the aircraft and no one was injured as a result of the incident.

“The pilot was adequately experienced and had previously flown the route a number of times without incident,” Mr Tucker said.

The ATSB has classified it as a “serious incident” and is currently investigating the flight.

The agency will interview the pilot and review operational procedures, with a final report anticipated by March 2019.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is conducting a separate investigation.

CASA will review the fatigue management practices of the charter company involved, a CASA spokesman told Yahoo7.