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October 27, 2009 - Pilots in Overshoot Had Been Using Laptops

Pilots of a Northwest jet that overshot its destination were using their laptops and discussing schedules instead of monitoring the flight, investigators say.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the crew of Northwest Flight 188 violated company policy when they turned on their laptops in mid-flight Oct. 21 and began talking about their work schedules, missing calls from air traffic controllers trying to contact them, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The NTSB said the experienced pilots, each with over 5,000 hours of flight time in the Airbus A320 model they were flying, were so distracted they lost track of time and failed to notice messages from dispatchers trying to re-establish contact.

In statements to investigators, the pilots refuted initial suspicions they might have nodded off at the controls. The NTSB interviews should refocus attention on the importance of cockpit discipline and safeguards to ensure that pilots stay in touch with controllers, authorities said.

The story of the Northwest flight -- which passed its destination Minneapolis at 37,000 feet before the pilots circled back -- highlights issues such as cockpit fatigue, rules for pilot work hours and how pilots can stay alert and engaged while flying highly automated jetliners on long routes, the Journal said.

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