A DC-9 pilot complained he was lost in the fog moments before his plane collided with another jetliner, killing eight people, according to a transcript obtained by NBC.
Federal investigators, while refusing to confirm the precise conversation between the pilot and an air traffic controller, said Tuesday the DC-9 crew had trouble finding its way just before Monday's collision at the Detroit airport.Also, Northwest Airlines reported the captain was making his first flight without another pilot observing since his return last week from a five-year medical leave, and the plane's first officer had joined the airline last March.
Twenty-four people were injured, two critically, in the fiery collision between the DC-9 and a Boeing 727, both operated by Northwest. The 727 was rolling down a foggy runway toward takeoff when the DC-9 pulled in front of it.
There was another fire Wednesday morning on the wing of a Northwest jetliner after it landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The fire was put out and passengers safely left the aircraft, officials said.
Northwest Airlines spokeswoman Christy Clapp said residual fuel in an auxilary power unit ignited on the right wing. The fire was spotted by ground crews as the Boeing 727 was taxiing to the terminal, she said.
NBC reported Tuesday that it had obtained a partial transcript of a conversation between DC-9 pilot William Lovelace and a controller.
According to the transcript, the controller asked Lovelace to verify the position of the DC-9, which was supposed to be heading toward a runway for takeoff.
"Uh, we're not sure. It's so foggy out here, we're completely stuck here," Lovelace said. "Look's like we're on 21-Center here."
"If you're on 21-Center, exit that runway immediately, sir," the controller said.
Moments later the planes collided.
The pilots of both planes survived the collision, and the black box recordings of cockpit conversations were being analyzed in Washington.
"We obviously had interviews with people in the tower and we have determined the DC-9 was having visibility problems," said Alan Pollock, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. "As far as exact wording, I cannot comment on that."
Lovelace, 52, of Phoenix, had returned to work with Northwest on Nov. 25 after a five-year medical leave for treatment of kidney stones, said Northwest spokesman Bob Gibbons.
He had made 12 flights between Nov. 25 and Nov. 30 and before that underwent two weeks of ground school and 13 hours of simulator flying before being cleared to return to work, Gibbons said.
His first officer, James F. Schifferns, 37, of Spokane, Wash., was hired in March after a military career in which he flew a variety of planes, including B-52 bombers, Northwest said. He had 150 hours flying with the airline.