NTSB: Delta pilots were fatigued before taxiway landing

By the time a Delta Boeing 767 accidentally landed on a taxiway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport instead of a runway, the captain had been awake more than 22 hours, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a new report on the October 2009  incident.

The NTSB said the probable cause of the incident was the flight crew's failure to identify the correct runway because of fatigue, exacerbated by several other factors.

The flight, which had departed from Rio de Janeiro for Atlanta late on a Sunday evening, was arriving Oct. 19 just after 6 a.m. One of the flight's three pilots had fallen ill with a gastrointestinal disorder, so the remaining two pilots conducted the entire flight without their customary break, according to the NTSB report released this week.

The crew had been on duty 12 hours, and the first officer had been awake at least 14 hours. The crew accepted a last-minute switch in runways -- called a sidestep -- but did not conduct a briefing on that runway and did not know that the approach lights and instrument landing system were not available for that runway. Also contributing to the incident were the combination of a variety of taxiway signs and light technologies on the taxiway.

The captain lined up the plane to the brightest set of lights he saw, while the first officer was attempting to tune to the instrument landing system. The plane ended up landing on the airport's Taxiway M, instead of the adjacent runway 27R.

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Delta said the pilots have been retrained and are back to active flying.

Hartsfield-Jackson said it was in full compliance with FAA requirements for airfield lighting and signage at the time of this incident, according to spokeswoman Katena Carvajales. The airport is reviewing a recent requirement by the Federal Aviation Administration for intermixing of light technologies.

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