Northwest Plane That Flew Past Airport Out of Contact for Longer Than Reported, Sources Say

The Northwest Airlines plane that flew 150 miles past the Minneapolis airport was out of contact with air traffic control for longer than the hour-plus originally reported, military sources told Fox News.

But the Federal Aviation Administration denies that was the case, standing by earlier reports that the wayward jet was out of contact for about 77 minutes.

Military sources confirmed to Fox that there were three "non-contacts" — or NORDOs — when air traffic controllers tried to call Flight 188, the first when it reached its cruising altitude after taking off from San Diego.

SLIDESHOW: Northwest Airlines Plane Mystery

The military wasn't notified about the out-of-touch plane until after the third non-contact incident, which occurred as the jet approached Minneapolis, the sources said.

But a source familiar with the FAA said the first non-contact happened while the Airbus A320 was over Denver. not San Diego. That source attributed the possible confusion to the fact that there were two moments earlier in the flight where the Northwest pilots did not follow directions properly, but said they were not NORDO incidents.

Both the FAA and the military agree that NORAD was not informed of the problem with Flight 188 until the last few minutes, sources said.

And they concur that NORAD had fighter jets on the runway within five minutes of notification of the situation.

FAA and NORAD officials met Wednesday to review what actually happened to cause the passenger jet to drift so far afield. Next week, the FAA is expected to release tapes of the attempts air traffic controllers made to reach Flight 188.

The new information raises questions about whether air traffic controllers followed proper protocol established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. It is extremely unusual for a plane to be out of contact for such a long period of time, the sources said.

Until Sept. 11, NORAD was only charged with defending the United States and Canada from aircraft originating outside the two countries. After the terrorist attacks, their oversight expanded to include flights based within both nations. The FAA is required to notify NORAD immediately of a suspected hijacking or other problem with any plane in domestic airspace.

Meanwhile, the pilots who overshot their destination are appealing the revocation of their licenses to fly.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said Thursday the pilots have filed appeals with the safety board.

The Federal Aviation Administration revoked the licenses of Captain Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Washington, and First Officer Richard Cole of Salem, Oregon, saying they put the 144 passengers of Northwest Flight 188 in serious danger.

Cheney and Cole told investigators they lost track of time and place while working on their laptops.

They failed to communicate with air traffic controllers for 91 minutes, raising national security concerns.

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