A pilot is counting his lucky stars as he survived despite falling asleep at the controls for 40 minutes as his plane was flying over Brisbane and the Gold Coast. He was reportedly flying the Cessna 208B Caravan aircraft when he dozed off. The Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) realized something was wrong when they couldn’t contact the aircraft’s pilot who was nearly 53km from Redcliffe airport. According to Daily Mail, the plane had departed from Cairns and had overflown the Redcliffe runway. Thus, it continued on towards Brisbane Airport raising alarm among traffic controllers.
Apparently, a pilot of a Royal Flying Doctor Service Beechcraft B200 King Air, which was taking off from the larger airport, tried intercepting the Cessna. The second pilot approached the Cessna in an attempt to trigger its traffic alert and collision system. But the move was in vain as the pilot of the Cessna 208B Caravan aircraft remained unresponsive. It wasn’t until the smaller plane traveled for 111km (68.97 miles) without any response, that the pilot finally woke up and spoke to traffic controllers.
ATSB revealed that the pilot had been asleep for nearly 40 minutes before he woke up and safely landed the flight at the Gold Coast Airport soon after. A probe from ATSB revealed that the pilot probably fell asleep due to fatigue caused by inadequate sleep in the hours that led to the flight journey. Following an investigation, officials found that the pilot in question suffered mild hypoxia as he had only been using intermittent oxygen even though he was flying above 11,000 feet.
“This likely exacerbated the pilot’s existing fatigue and contributed to the pilot falling asleep,” noted Kerri Hughes, ATSB’s acting transport safety director. Per ATSB, pilots need to continuously use oxygen while flying above 10,000 feet in an unpressurized aircraft. Furthermore, she noted that the incident served as an important reminder for pilots to carefully monitor their own health and wellbeing before taking the controls of an aircraft.
“To ensure that they are well rested and adequately nourished, especially when conducting single pilot operations,” explained Hughes as she stressed the importance of monitoring one’s own health before taking on a potentially dangerous task. The acting transport safety director added that loss of consciousness was a common symptom of hypoxia. However, she noted that it was not typical for anyone to wake up, especially when they are still at the same altitude without oxygen.
Hughes shared the information gained from medical specialists who suggested that the pilot did not lose consciousness solely due to mild hypoxia but other contributing factors as well. “Rather, the pilot had fallen asleep likely due to a combination of fatigue and mild hypoxia, possibly exacerbated by dehydration and diet,” she explained.