Northwest 188 pilots who blew past MSP airport were indeed distracted, NTSB says

The National Transportation Safety Board makes it official: Northwest Airlines flight 188 blew past Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport and failed to maintain radio communications last October because its pilots -- Richard Cole and Timothy Cheney -- were distracted by a conversation unrelated to the operation of the aircraft.

The NTSB report, issued today, also found air traffic control shortcomings during the event.

At one point the pilots thought they were over Winnipeg. The military said it was ready scramble fighter jets because it was worried the plane had been hijacked. And just two days ago, the pilots agreed to lose their licenses.

From the report:

The NTSB said that the pilots continued to fly through several air traffic control sectors without replying to any radio commands. The investigation found that the pilots had become engaged in a conversation dealing with the process by which pilots request flight schedules and during the conversation each was using his personal laptop computer, contrary to company policy. The pilots were not aware of the repeated attempts by air traffic controllers' and the airline to contact them until a flight attendant used the intercom to inquire about the progress of the flight.

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