As a pilot in training from long, long time ago, I think it’s hilarious the two commercial pilots from Northwest Flight 188 who overshot Minneapolis airport by 150 miles in an Airbus A320 want their licenses back. Just because they were playing on their laptops and overshot an airport by 150 miles doesn’t mean they are bad pilots, right?

Here’s my problem… overshooting an airport by 150 miles doesn’t sound so bad. Until you see it on a map. As a frame of reference, from the Minneapolis airport to Prentice, Wisconsin is about 149.540 miles in a straight line. That’s close enough to the 150 miles they missed the Minneapolis airport, so I’ll use that city as a reference point.

Northwest Flight 188 A

Northwest Flight 188 A


That’s a hell of a search area if you map it out from the airport, assuming they would have slightly altered course once they passed the airport and continued flying in a North-Eastward direction from the airport.

Northwest Flight 188 B

Northwest Flight 188 B


But if you assume worst case, that they diverted anywhere in a 360 degree arc – 150 miles in any direction – from their intended destination? Using the airport as the center and Prentice, Wisconsin as the edge, you get…

Northwest Flight 188 C

Northwest Flight 188 C


That’s a big search area.

But that’s not the best part. The best part is that “ATC (Air Traffic Control) lost radio contact with the Airbus A320 near Denver, Colorado” That was the last time anyone really knew where Northwest Flight 188 was at in the United States and that everything was OK with them. (Map and flight path courtesy FLIGHT AWARE)

Northwest Flight 188 D

Northwest Flight 188 D


So looking at the official flight path with FLIGHT AWARE with Google Maps, passing Denver Colorado heading to Prentice…

Northwest Flight 188 E

Northwest Flight 188 E


And assuming they stayed on Denver’s radar for a while and they maintained a north-north-eastward direction from their last radio contact and continued up to Prentice, Wisconsin as before, and ballparking their last radio contact near Denver, this would be the search area.

Northwest Flight 188 F

Northwest Flight 188 F



But assuming the worst case? Assuming they had maintained radio silence and had altered their course in any direction from their last known contact near Denver?

Northwest Flight 188 G

Northwest Flight 188 G



Wow.

A few questions…

* This missing airplane didn’t count as a “wake the president” kind of emergency?

* You could argue that since they showed up on a few Air Traffic Control radars along the way and since they were heading in the correct general direction nobody thought anything was wrong. Even with complete radio silence, that’s a big stretch, but I might sorta buy that. But nobody at Minneapolis airport thought to sound even the tiniest little alarm bell when Flight 188 roared right on by?

*Norad? FAA? This is your kind of thing here. You know. Airspace. Jets. Planes going off course in complete radio silence. Do you all need an official gold embossed invitation to show up to the party next time?

* And what exactly was on the pilot’s laptops that was so captivating?