A commercial pilot is under investigation after falling asleep in the cockpit of a freight plane and overflying his Australian island destination by 46km, officials said on Tuesday.
The pilot, who was not identified, was the only person onboard the twin-propeller Piper PA-31 Navajo Chieftain and was flying on autopilot during early morning flight on November 8 from Devonport city on Tasmania 250km northwest to King Island in Bass Strait , his employer, Vortex Air, said in a statement.
The pilot "unintentionally fell asleep while in command of the aircraft", the Melbourne-based airline said.
"The issue became apparent when air traffic control was unable to contact the pilot in flight, and the aircraft traveled past the intended destination while operating on autopilot," the statement said.
Air traffic control records showed several radio calls were made to the unresponsive pilot, The Australian newspaper reported.
The pilot landed safely on King Island, Vortex Air said.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, a crash and risk investigator, and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the aviation industry regulator, are investigating the incident and the company's management of pilot fatigue.
The bureau confirmed that the plane had overflown the King Island Airport by 46km due to the pilot sleeping. It said it would interview the pilot and review Vortex Air's operational procedures before a report on the incident was made public.
Vortex Air said the 06:20 flight was the first on the pilot's first day back at work after taking leave. He continued flying that day.
The newspaper said the pilot reported for duty despite having little or no sleep the previous night due to a personal crisis.
"Vortex Air takes the safety of our passengers, crew and pilots extremely seriously and always abide by all safety procedures," the airline said.
"This is an extremely rare occurrence, as demonstrated by the company's excellent track record," he added.
The company said it was helping the pilot to "safely return to full duties".
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