Plane soars past destination as pilots dose: report


NEW DELHI – An Air India flight headed for Mumbai overshot its destination and was halfway to Goa before its dozing pilots were woken out of a deep slumber by air traffic control, a report said.

The high altitude nap took place approximately two weeks ago, the Times of India reported Thursday. The report, however, drew a furious denial from Air India.

Some 100 passengers were on board the state-run flight that originated from Dubai and flew to the western Indian city of Jaipur before heading south to Mumbai when both pilots fell asleep, a source told the paper.

“After operating an overnight flight, fatigue levels peak — and so the pilots dozed off after taking off from Jaipur,” the source, who was not identified in the report, said.

The plane flew to Mumbai on autopilot, but when air traffic there tried to help the aircraft land, the plane ignored their instructions and carried on at full speed towards Goa.

“It was only after the aircraft reached Mumbai airspace that air traffic control realised it was not responding to any instructions and was carrying on its own course,” the source said.

“The aircraft should have begun its descent about 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Mumbai, but here it was still at cruising altitude. We checked for hijack.”

Finally air traffic control buzzed the cockpit and woke up the pilots, who turned the plane around, the report said.

Air India on Thursday said a plane had overshot its Mumbai destination on June 4 but furiously denied it was because the pilots were sleeping, putting the glitch down to a brief communications breakdown.

“The report is absolutely incorrect, devoid of facts, misleading and irresponsible. It is a figment of imagination,” Air India spokesman Jitender Bhargava told AFP by telephone from Mumbai.

“We have gone through the flight reports of the last 30 days. A plane did cross Mumbai for 15 kilometres because it had lost contact for a few moments. At those speeds 15 kilometres is covered in a very short time.”

The plane quickly established contact with air traffic control and landed a short while later, he said.

Bhargava accused the Times of India, one of the country’s biggest papers, of “batting for somebody.” The daily has said in its report that authorities were trying to hush up the incident.

Indian papers also reported this week that a flight operated by private airline Jetlite to the central Indian city of Patna was grounded after the pilot was allegedly found to be drunk.