Dozy pilot lucky to be alive after falling asleep for 40 minutes at 11,000 feet

A pilot had an incredibly lucky escape after falling asleep at the controls and dozing for 40 minutes, 11,000 feet in the air.

Despite being shouted at by air traffic control over the radio, and another plane flying as close to him as possible to try and rouse him, when the slumbering air jockey finally woke up he had overflown his target airport by more than 65 miles and was heading out over the ocean.

An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the Cessna pilot was on a flight from Cairns to Redcliffe when he encountered unexpected icy conditions and poor visibility due to cloud.

He was forced to climb from 10,000ft to 11,000ft – a height that requires pilots in such planes to use supplemental oxygen.

When the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan was about 30 miles from the Sunshine Coast Airport, he was contacted by air traffic control to arrange his landing but they received no response – and were met with silence for the next 40 minutes.

When the pilot finally woke up, air traffic controllers reporting he sounded “groggy” and “not really with it” .

He initially tried to insist on flying to Redcliffe – not realising he had already overshot it – but was ordered to land at Gold Coast Airport instead, and his grogginess gradually improved as he descended to land.

The plane touched down safely – more than five hours after takeoff.

The pilot admitted being confused after waking, not realising where he was, and had no memory of commencing his descent to land.

Royal Flying Doctor Service pilot Terry Latchman told 7 News how he and colleagues were nearby and had been asked to help try to wake the pilot.

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They flew their plane as close as they could to the Cessna to try and trigger its proximity alert alarm, with the pilots also waving the plane's wings and dropping its wheels in a bid to wake the man.

The ATSB report said the pilot had not had enough sleep the night before and had only taken occasional “sniffs” of supplemental oxygen, rather than having the mask on all the time, which resulted in him suffering mild hypoxia.

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

The pilot also said the heater had been on in the cockpit which might have made him sleepy, and he had also not drunk enough water.

The report concluded: "The incident emphasises the importance of pilots monitoring their own health and wellbeing, to ensure that they are well-rested and adequately nourished, especially when conducting single pilot operations."

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