Sleeping Cessna pilot sparked mid-air emergency over SEQ

A lone Cessna pilot fell asleep at the controls for at least 40 minutes while flying over the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, causing a mid-air emergency that had other aircraft frantically trying to establish contact, an offical report into the incident has found.

May 26, 2021, updated May 26, 2021
The Cessna aircraft that flew over Brisbane with the pilot asleep at the controls

The Cessna aircraft that flew over Brisbane with the pilot asleep at the controls

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the pilot was flying a Cessna 208B on a ferry flight scheduled from Cairns to Redcliffe on July 2 last year when he fell asleep, most likely due to a combination of fatigue and mild hypoxia, or lack of oxygen.

The plane was 53 kms west-north-west of Sunshine Coast Airport when air traffic controllers were unable to receive a response from the aircraft about its scheduled approach into Redcliffe.

“No response was received from the pilot at that time, or for the next 40 minutes.,” the ATSB report said.

Air traffic controllers saw the plane overfly Redcliffe and head towards Brisbane, declaring an emergency due to uncertainty over the safety of the plane and its occupants.

“During this time, air traffic control, with the assistance of pilots from nearby aircraft, made further attempts to contact the pilot of VH‑DQP,” the ATSB said.

The path the plane took over SEQ. Image: ATSB

This included efforts by the pilot of a Royal Flying Doctor Service Beechcraft plane to attract the Cessna pilot’s attention by dipping his wings and flying close to activate the smaller aircraft’s collision warning system.

“When the aircraft was about 111 km south-south-east of the intended destination, the pilot woke and communications were re-established,” the report said.

“Air traffic control reported that the pilot sounded ‘groggy’ and ‘not really with it’ upon first contact and took a few minutes before slowly commencing the descent to 8,000 ft.”

“The pilot was instructed by air traffic control to land at Gold Coast Airport. The pilot tracked to the Gold Coast and landed safely without further incident.”

The bureau found that the pilot was likely experiencing fatigue due to inadequate sleep the night before, combined with the hypoxia likely cause when he climbed from 10,000 feet to 11,000 feet earlier in the flight.

It said that “operating at 11,000 ft with intermittent use of supplemental oxygen likely resulted in the pilot experiencing mild hypoxia”.

“This likely exacerbated the pilot’s existing fatigue and contributed to the pilot falling asleep.”

Meanwhile, a light plane has made an emergency landing on a Sydney beach.

Emergency services received a call that the aircraft had landed at Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches about 2pm, with the pilot and a passenger on board.

The man and the woman, both aged in their 40s, appeared to have escaped uninjured, NSW Ambulance said.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau would investigate, police said.

-with AAP

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