WASHINGTON – Lawmakers meeting about airline safety Wednesday heard about a government report that described a commercial pilot and his first officer falling asleep at the wheel 60 miles outside Denver, and careening toward the airport at twice the speed allowed.
Rep. Bart Gordon , D-Tenn. demanded to know why this information was available on a system available to the public, known as ASRA, but NASA refused to release the information from a separate survey conducted in an $11 million program called the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service.
The hearing was called after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration initially refused to release the NAOMS survey saying it could affect the public confidence commercial air travel.
Lawmakers have been pushing for the NAOMS survey to be made public because it is such a wide-reaching report, and it is statistically sound, unlike the ASRS system, which is based on self-reporting.
Gordon, the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, held the hearing Wednesday to hold NASA officials' feet to the fire over the issue. He argued that if a report like the one he cited is available publicly, that NASA's scientific survey should be released, too.
"This is up on the Internet. This is available to everybody ... Now this is just one of the thousands of reports that identify the airport, sometime the approximate time, aircraft, runway numbers. This material is public so why should your survey not be public?" Gordon asked.
Apparently, the pressure worked.
During the hearing, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told committee lawmakers that he could release survey information by the end of the year, although he said it would have to be "scrubbed" of certain identifying information to prevent lawsuits.
He also admitted that it was a mistake to withhold the information as long as he did.
In an exchange with Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., Costello chastised agency officials for telling the press that the report "could have an adverse effect on the industry."
"As I've said several times, that was the wrong thing to have said. I apologize that anyone in my agency did say that," Griffin said.
The ASRS self-reporting site reveals details of the harrowing near disaster.
A commercial pilot had recently switched schedules to flying three "red eyes" in a row between Denver and Baltimore with only one hour in between flights. On March 4, 2004, during the third late-night flight, the pilot and his first officer were approaching Denver in an A319 Airbus jet — about the size of a Boeing 737 — and they were fast asleep.
"LAST 45 MINS OF FLT I FELL ASLEEP AND SO DID THE FO," or first officer, a one-paragraph report in a NASA-run public reporting system says.
"MISSED ALL CALLS FROM ATC (air-traffic controller)," the report continues, saying that the plane was supposed to be traveling at less than 290 mph, but they were moving at a clip of about 590 mph.
"I WOKE UP, WHY I DON'T KNOW, AND HEARD FRANTIC CALLS FROM ATC. ... I ANSWERED ATC AND ABIDED BY ALL INSTRUCTIONS TO GET DOWN. WOKE FO UP," the report says, adding that he then followed all the controller's instructions, "AND LANDED WITH NO FURTHER INCIDENTS."
"HOPEFULLY COMPANY IS IN PROCESS OF CHANGING THESE TRIP PAIRINGS," the pilot said in the report, which is posted on NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System.
The promised report is expected to show that accidents including near misses, runway incursions and bird strikes take place at least twice the rate as commonly thought.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.