Errant Pilots at Odds Over Blame

The Northwest Airlines captain and co-pilot who prompted a national outcry in October by going radio silent for more than an hour are now at odds with each other over who was primarily responsible for the blunder, The Wall Street Journal reported.

As the veteran aviators wage separate legal battles to regain licenses revoked by the government, the co-pilot is blaming the captain for failing to notice and resolve the communication slipup.

As part of his formal appeal to the Federal Aviation Administration to continue flying, co-pilot Richard I. Cole, 54 years old, argues that he deserves a lesser punishment partly because he "reasonably relied on the performance" of the captain, who was actually flying the plane, "in meeting his required duties and responsibilities."

Capt. Timothy B. Cheney, 53, makes no specific assertions about the co-pilot's responsibility in his appeal.

The filings, submitted to the National Transportation Safety Board last month but not previously reported, make the claim that various "extenuating circumstances" — from air-traffic controller lapses to the design of aircraft systems to voluntary cooperation with investigators — warrant more lenient treatment of the pilots by the FAA. Neither filing includes new detail about what transpired in the cockpit.

The filings in the Northwest Flight 188 case are the first public indication of discord among the cockpit crew of the Airbus A320, which cruised at 37,000 feet more than 100 miles past its Minneapolis destination on Oct. 21, despite repeated messages from controllers, nearby planes and company dispatchers. The pilots told investigators that they were distracted and had turned on personal laptops to discuss new company pilot-scheduling procedures.

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