Over the weekend, the FAA released the recordings and transcripts of conversations between ATC and the pilots of Flight 188. The gist of the whole conversation(s) can be summed up in one sentence…
“Ah [just] cockpit distraction, that’s all I can say,” is the [pilot’s] response.
Wow. 144 passengers onboard, and an hour and a half with zero ground contact, speeding along at Mach 0.78 35,000 feet over and 150 miles past the Minnesota airport and “we were distracted” was the best they could come up with? And they want their licenses back??
Minnesota ATC did have the pilots confirm through directed maneuvers that they were actually in control of the plane and did allow them to come back and land at the airport without escort though. Personally, I would have made them wait in a holding pattern until they were properly flanked and escorted down by the military on a secure runway and had everyone sifted on a restricted tarmac.
Here’s the link to the CNN article on the pilot’s comments and the FAA and ATC conversations.