Pilots say fatigue can make concentration difficult

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by By BYRON HARRIS / WFAA-TV

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Posted on May 12, 2009 at 10:22 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 5:00 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

Byron Harris reports.

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Two years ago, a News 8 investigation highlighted the dangers of tired pilots in the regional airline industry.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board says fatigue and training were issues in the most serious U.S. air crash in the last seven years.

Forty-nine people died when Continental Airlines Flight 3407 crashed into a house near Buffalo on Feb. 12. One person on the ground was also killed.

The plane crashed because of pilot error, according to the NTSB. "Their heads weren't in the game," one investigator said.

That's similar to what pilots tell News 8 happens to them when they're flying tired.

"You get in the cockpit and you fly for 20 minutes between A and B and you don't know where the first 10 minutes ended up at," said one pilot.

In the Continental crash, the co-pilot had been up for 28 hours, returning from a ski trip and a red-eye flight to get back to work. That was preceded by days of shifting schedules, in which sleep time was short or interrupted.

"The fatigue you feel working at a commuter is like being in a haze or fog, and not being able to make things out clearly," a pilot told News 8. "Sometimes when I'm taxiing out, I'll look down at the chart and it takes me a long time to figure out which way am I going. North? Am I going south? It's dark out, I'm tired. I don't remember which way we're supposed to go." said.

The aircraft in the Buffalo crash bore Continental airline markings, but it belonged to commuter carrier Colgan Air, a division of Pinnacle Airlines.

The National Transportation Safety Board opened hearings on the crash Tuesday.

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