ATSB investigation reveals Australian pilot slept at the controls for 40 minutes

A Queensland pilot who flew over his destination fell asleep for 40 minutes at the controls of his plane, an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has revealed.

The pilot was flying a Cessna 208B Caravan on a repositioning aircraft from Cairns to Redcliffe in July 2020.

While cruising at 10,000 feet, the pilot encountered unexpected icing conditions and poor visibility due to clouds. He climbed to 11,000 feet and began to use the aircraft‘s supplemental oxygen system on and off. Pilots are required to use an oxygen supply at all times when operating non-pressurized aircraft, such as the Caravan, above 10,000 feet.

The pilot flew over his destination and did not respond to calls from air traffic control for 40 minutes, the investigation revealed.

“The fatigue was likely exacerbated by mild hypoxia, contributing to the pilot’s sleepiness; pilots should monitor their health and well-being to ensure they are well rested before flight,” the report said.

While the plane was about 53 km northwest of the Sunshine Coast airport, air traffic control unsuccessfully attempted to contact the pilot about his planned descent to Redcliffe.

Following repeated calls to the pilot, ATC requested assistance from pilots on nearby aircraft to contact the Caravan pilot, who was seen overflying Redcliffe and heading for Brisbane.

ATC asked the pilot of a Royal Flying Doctor Service Beechcraft B200 King Air aircraft departing from Brisbane to intercept and contact the pilot of the caravan, but their initial efforts were unsuccessful. The King Air pilot then dipped the wings and approached the Cessna in an attempt to trigger his Traffic and Collision Warning System (TCAS), but the pilot remained unresponsive.

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