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Pilot Caught Sleeping On The Job In Australia

As a passenger, it’s not catastrophic to fall asleep on a journey and miss your stop, especially if the distance overshot is not too long. It’s often perfectly possible to retrace your steps to your intended destination. In fact, some passengers relish a nap on a plane or bus either to make up for lost sleep or to tide over a late night or they fall asleep out of tiredness.

But how about a driver or pilot sleeping at the wheel or in the cockpit? A small plane missed its destination in Australia by almost 50km (30 miles) after its pilot fell asleep in the cockpit, air safety officials say. No major damage was done, but can you imagine the horrors that could have befallen the plane and its passengers?

Luckily, the pilot was the only person on board the freight flight from Devonport to King Island in Tasmania on November 8, and he woke up before the plane went too far or met with disaster.

The mishap, classified as a case of "incapacitation," is being probed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

Officials of ATSB have not said how the pilot awoke before landing the plane safely.

The Piper PA-31 aircraft, operated by Vortex Air, had been due to cover the 240-km trip at 07:15 local time.

"During the cruise, the pilot fell asleep, resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46 kilometres," the ATSB said in a brief statement.

Aviation expert Neil Hansford said that Australia had strict rules relating to pilot fatigue.

"There is no way in the world that someone should've taken on that flight fatigued," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

On its website, Vortex Air says it runs charter flights for "groups, corporates and leisure travellers" around Australia.

The ATSB is expected to file a report on the incident after interviewing the pilot and reviewing operating procedures.

If fatigue is the reason for the lapse, Australian officials should make sure pilots are well-rested, fit, and alert before climbing into the cockpit. 

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