In an unprecedented turn of events, Australian aviation officials have launched an investigation after a pilot missed his landing and flew the plane almost 30 miles (48 kilometres) ahead of the scheduled destination because he fell asleep at the controls of the plane.
The twin-engine Piper PA-31 Navajo, operated by charter service Vortex Air, flew from Devonport, Tasmania, on the morning of November 8 for an hour-long flight to neighbouring King Island.
However, according to reports, the small plane flew past the runway at King Island Airport before making a landing. Later, the plane continued to fly for another 48 km before making a reverse course and heading back at the destined airport.
In a statement released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is investigating the incident, they stated that incident is a case of ‘incapacitation', revealing that the pilot fell asleep mid-flight resulting in the overflying.
‘During the cruise, the pilot was flying the plane also. While flying the plane, he fell asleep, resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46 kilometres," said the ATSB.
Later, it stated that it will question the pilot and review operating procedures before releasing the final report in the upcoming year. The investigation into what the ATSB described as a "serious operational incident" is expected to finish in March 2019.
The plane has a flying at a speed of around 380 kilometres per hour and a range of about 1,900 kilometres, sources suggest.
Assuming that the chartered plane was on auto-pilot, the officials said, it is not clear how the pilot was awakened before safely landing the twin-engine Piper PA-31 turboprop aircraft.
Following the incident, the director of Vortex Air airline has declined to comment on the matter.
According to a report by the British Airline Pilots' Association, published in 2013, more than half of pilots have admitted to falling asleep while in control of a plane.