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FAA Releases Transcripts of Northwest Flight That Overflew Minneapolis

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Air traffic controllers asked the Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew Minneapolis repeatedly about what had happened on the plane before the pilots responded, according to transcripts released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Oct. 21 flight, which took off from San Diego and overshot its Minneapolis destination by 150 miles, had been out of contact for 77 minutes before controllers re-established contact, leaving air traffic controllers scratching their heads.

The pilots, Timothy Cheney of Washington state and Richard Cole of Oregon, told them that they had been distracted, but didn't elaborate.

The flight has become an embarrassment for the FAA. The agency suspended both pilots last month, saying they violated numerous federal safety regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

The pilots are appealing the decision.

The transcripts reveal the confusion of the flight, but fail to answer what may have distracted the pilots.

After regaining contact, the pilots and controllers spoke almost 90 seconds about the route they should take to Minneapolis before one of the controllers said, "I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure."

"It is secure, we got distracted," one of the pilots responded. The transcript says the pilot then said that they never heard a call from the ground.

A different controller took over and, after five more minutes of directions about routes and altitudes, asked, "Do you have time to give a brief explanation on what happened?"

"Cockpit distractions that's all I can say," was the response from Northwest Flight 188.

About 12 minutes after contact had been re-established, the same controller asked, "Is there any way you can elaborate on the distraction?"

The pilot said that they were dealing with some company issues, and "that's all all I can tell you right now at this time," according to the transcript.

Air traffic controllers ultimately had the pilots perform several turns to verify that they were in control of the plane. It landed safely in Minneapolis, and was met at the gate by police.

The transcripts also show controllers checking that the flight had enough fuel. The pilot responded that they had about two hours' worth of fuel on board and that it wasn't a concern.

The pilots have told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were discussing their company's complicated new crew-scheduling program over their laptop computers as their plane flew past Minneapolis by 150 miles. Northwest was bought by Delta Air Lines Inc. last year, and the company has been working to integrate its computer systems.

Fox News' Brian Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.