A plane was flying with 159 onboard. Then both pilots fell asleep.


Two pilots of an aircraft carrying 157 other people fell asleep midflight, causing the plane to veer off its designated path, according to a preliminary report by Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee.

The pilots were operating a Batik Air flight on Jan. 25 when they both fell asleep at the same time for around 28 minutes, the report said. The plane, carrying 153 passengers and four crew members, had left Kendari, in the southeast of the island of Sulawesi, and was headed to Jakarta, a two-hour and 35-minute flight.

The report did not identify the pilots, only describing the pilot in command as a 32-year-old Indonesian and the second in command as a 28-year-old Indonesian. Both had been deemed fit to fly, having passed health checks and returned negative tests for alcohol, the report said.

When the flight reached a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet, about 30 minutes after departure, the pilot in command asked the deputy for permission to rest, which was granted. The pilot in command fell asleep and woke just under an hour later.

The pilot in command then asked his cockpit mate whether he wanted to sleep, but the second in command declined, according to the report, so the first pilot continued to sleep while the deputy remained in control of the aircraft.

After making contact with Jakarta’s area control center, the second pilot “inadvertently fell asleep,” the report said, noting that when the control center later attempted to contact the pilots, it did not receive a response.

“Several attempts to contact BTK6723 had been made by the Jakarta ACC including asking other pilots to call the BTK6723,” the report said. “None of the calls were responded to by the BTK6723 pilots.”

Twenty-eight minutes after the last recorded transmission from the second pilot, the first pilot woke up “and was aware that the aircraft was not on the correct flight path,” the report said. The pilot put the flight back on track, and the plane went on to land at Jakarta, the report said.

Passengers and employees aboard the flight were unharmed, and there was no damage to the plane, the report said.

According to the report, the second pilot had been taking care of his 1-month-old twins at home, was struggling with sleep and had moved residences the day before the flight.

The Transportation Ministry “strongly reprimands” Batik Air over the incident, said Indonesia’s civil aviation director, Maria Kristi Endah Murni, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We will carry out an investigation and review of the night flight operation in Indonesia related with Fatigue Risk Management for Batik Air and all flight operators,” she said in a statement.

AFP reported, citing a Batik Air statement, that the two pilots had been “temporarily suspended.” Batik Air did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Around the world, the airline industry has long grappled with the issue of fatigue among staff members, particularly pilots and cabin crew members.

A survey conducted in July among 6,893 pilots in Europe by an aviation safety consultancy for the European Cockpit Association found that 3 out of 4 pilots fell asleep while flying a plane in the month before the survey.

In 2022, the managing director of Wizz Air faced backlash from unions and pilot representatives after he urged fatigued staffers to go the “extra mile” amid shortages, Sky News reported.

In August, The Washington Post reported that U.S. federal authorities had investigated nearly 5,000 pilots suspected of falsifying their medical records to conceal that they were receiving benefits for mental health disorders and other serious conditions that could classify them as unfit to fly.

5,000 pilots suspected of hiding major health issues. Most are still flying.

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