Pilot who fell asleep mid-flight and missed airport ‘hadn’t slept for 24 hours’

A pilot who fell asleep and missed the airport by 78km had been awake for 24 hours, an investigation has found.

The pilot, who was flying from Tasmania to King Island in Australia, was experiencing “acute levels of fatigue” when he passed out during an early morning freight flight.

He was the only person onboard the Piper PA-31-350 aircraft when he fell asleep during the descent into King Island.

Air traffic controllers and other pilots in the area attempted to contact him, to no avail.

When he woke up, he realised he had overflown his destination by around 78km before turning back to King Island and landing safely.

An Australian Transport Security Board (ATSB) investigation into the incident found that the pilot was unable to sleep a scheduled rest period before the flight.

The investigation also found that the pilot’s tiredness was at a level that would affect performance – adding that even if he had managed to sleep during his rest period, he still would have been too tired to fly.

“This investigation highlights the need for pilots to assess their level of fatigue before and during their flight,” said ATSB executive director of transport safety Nat Nagy.

“Before commencing night operations pilots are encouraged to modify their usual sleep routines to ensure they are adequately rested.”

Nagy added: “Just as it is the pilot’s responsibility to use rest periods to get adequate sleep and to remove themselves from duty if they feel fatigued, it is also incumbent on operators to implement policies and create an organisational culture where flight crew can report fatigue and remove themselves from duty in a supportive environment.”