Stop Digging

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 5:46 PM EDT

The latest story from those pilots who overshot Minneapolis is that they had their laptops out and got so absorbed in what they were doing that they lost track of time.  Private pilot James Fallows isn't buying it:

The difficulty for the pilots is that the version of the story they're resisting — that they simply fell asleep — is less damning for them than any alternative version. If they fell asleep, that's bad, but they could argue some kind of force majeure. But if their "heated conversation" (previous story) or intense laptop use (current story) kept them from remembering their most elemental responsibility as pilots, that really is beyond the pale. The closest comparison would be, say, to an operating-room crew that got so interested in watching a football game on TV that they sliced open a patient but forgot to take out his appendix. Forgetting where you are going is incredible enough on its own. And not having any back-of-mind nag saying, "Wait a minute, we haven't heard anything on the air-traffic control frequency for a while" also is outside any known experience of the professional flight-crew world.

The laptop story really, really doesn't hold water.  Air traffic controllers tried to reach them repeatedly with no success, and there's just no way that busily reviewing flight schedules could have absorbed them so fully that they didn't even hear their radio.  These guys need to remember the first lesson about what to do when you find yourself in a hole: stop digging.