Two pilots on an Ethiopian Airlines flight nearly caused a disaster after falling into a deep sleep during the flight.
The pilots fell asleep mid-flight at 37,000 feet as they approached Addis Ababa airport, but were able to land the plane after an autopilot sounded an alarm that woke them up after they were disconnected, according to the Daily Mail.
The flight “ET343” had taken off from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, heading to Addis Ababa, on Monday.
In a similar incident, on July 2, 2020, in Queensland, Australia, a tired pilot fell asleep in the cockpit for 40 minutes and passed the airport at which he should have landed, according to “The Independent” newspaper.
According to a report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the incident began when air traffic control attempted to contact the pilot about his impending landing at Redcliffe Airport, but they received no response for the next 40 minutes because he was asleep.
Then office staff tried to contact the pilot using a nearby plane, including a pilot who operated the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
The pilot approached the Cessna plane in an attempt to trigger the traffic and collision alert system, but that did not work, and the pilot remained asleep, and when the plane flew 111 kilometers southeast of the airport in the Pacific Ocean, the pilot woke up and informed the air control center, then the plane landed peacefully at Gold Coast Airport, more than 80 miles from Redcliffe.
According to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report, the pilot flew across a distance of bad weather on departure, rising from 10,000 feet to 11,000 feet.
The bureau found that the pilot was likely to have been fatigued from lack of sleep the night before that led to the accident, said Kerry Hughes, acting director of transportation safety.
Operating at 11,000 feet with intermittent use of supplemental oxygen is likely to cause the pilot to develop mild hypoxia. This exacerbated the pilot’s fatigue and kept him asleep all the time.
Hypoxia is a condition in which the body or an area of the body is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen, which can lead to fatigue and confusion.
Hughes said most people generally underestimate their stress level and tend to overestimate their abilities.
This incident underscores the importance of pilots monitoring their health and well-being, to ensure that they are well rested and adequately nourished, Hughes added.