Military jets rest while go! pilots stay silent
Sleeping pilots? A communications breakdown in the cockpit? A medical emergency? Hijackers?
Fearing the worst, air traffic controllers alerted the military about a commercial jet flying from Honolulu to Hilo at 21,000 feet with 40 passengers that missed its landing and failed to respond to nearly a dozen calls.
Despite a silent cockpit on go! Airlines Flight 1002 for 17 minutes, fighter jets were not scrambled to assist or escort, raising questions about a possible breakdown in security measures.
"Didn't we learn our lesson from 9/11?" asked Joseph Gutheinz, a former inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Transportation Department. "Why is it that there wasn't an interceptor up there trying to find out what was going on with that plane?
"If we don't get it now, what about next week when somebody does hijack a plane?" he said. "All that tells you is that Hawaii is wide open for a terrorist attack."
Flight 1002 left Honolulu on Feb. 13 at 9:16 a.m. and overshot Hilo's airport by 15 miles, according to the FAA.
The pilots are being investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board for possibly falling asleep on the brief, 214-mile flight. They have also been grounded by go!'s parent company, Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group.
None of Hawaii Air National Guard's F-15s were alerted, said Capt. Jeff Hickman, spokesman for the Guard. In fact, the Guard has not responded to any calls for emergency scrambles for civilian flights in Hawaii since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Guard said it serves only as responders and that decisions to scramble are made at a higher level.
Officials at the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Command did not return an e-mail or three phone calls seeking comment Thursday on why the fighter planes were not scrambled or called.
The FAA said it promptly notified the Domestic Events Network, an interagency teleconferencing system established after the 9/11 attacks. It allows the FAA to communicate with the Department of Defense and other agencies to coordinate a response to suspicious activities or possible air-related emergencies.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said his agency "reported it in an appropriate manner," and said it cannot order fighter jets to scramble. "I don't know how somebody can criticize a response to an incident when they have no idea what went on behind the scenes," he said.
The NTSB determined the aircraft had experienced no mechanical problems and reported skies were clear that morning. However, the agency gave no conclusion in its preliminary report why the plane overshot the airport.