An investigation was recently led into a shocking incident when an experienced pilot in Australia had fallen asleep mid-air last year. The investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the Queensland pilot had dozed off at the controls for around 40 minutes and overshot his intended airport by more than 100 kilometres (nearly 70 miles). This emergency incident happened due to fatigue and mild hypoxia from the sporadic use of oxygen while flying.
According to the ATSB report, the aircraft was cruising at 10,000 feet when the pilot faced “poor visibility”. He then climbed to 11, 000 feet and started using the plane's supplemental oxygen system intermittently and as a result fell asleep.
The incident took place on the afternoon of July 2, 2020, when the pilot was ferrying passengers from Cairns in a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft to Redcliffe (a suburb of the Brisbane metropolitan area). On that day, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tried to establish a connection with the pilot when he was at Sunshine Coast regarding his planned descent into Redcliffe Airport, north of Brisbane, but they received no response.
Since the ATC spotted the plane continuing off-course towards Brisbane, they asked a Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) pilot to intercept the light plane. The RFDS plane tried to attract the pilot’s attention by dipping the aircraft’s wings and flying close to activate Cessna’s traffic alert and collision avoidance system, but this also failed.
The ATC then alerted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the Australian Defence Force about the plane’s loss of communication.
However, the connection was automatically re-established when the pilot woke up nearly 111 kilometres from the intended destination. According to the findings, the pilot sounded “confused” and “groggy”, but managed to land safely at Gold Coast Airport which is around 56 miles south of Brisbane.
According to the report, the pilot has ferried flights for 12 years and has nearly 20,000 hours of flying experience. Such an incident has never happened before.