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Why did ITA Airways 609 not respond to alarm?

Passenger airplane flying in the blue sky

What really happened in the cockpit of flight 609 by ITA Airways as it hung in the skies of France with nobody responding to an alarm? The pilot of the plane, which departed from New York at 4:37 pm (local time) on April 30 and headed for Rome Fiumicino, did not answer calls from the Marseille radar center for several minutes, which usually only happens in exceptional situations of danger, such as a hijacking or terrorist attack.

The alarm went off immediately, with 2 military fighters that were ready to take off to flank the aircraft and scrutinize what was happening inside the cockpit, also because to make the situation even more worrying, there is the war taking place in Europe, with France and Italy pledging to support Ukraine.

Fortunately, it was not necessary to launch the fighter jets, because none of this potential military emergency was happening on board the Airbus A330.

After a few minutes, the plane resumed communications with the control towers and landed safely in Rome Fiumicino at 6:31 am (Italian time) as scheduled.

Reporting on the news, Republic noted with a reconstruction of the facts  that was reached after an internal investigation: “We have completed an internal investigation procedure. The internal investigation was aimed at ascertaining the events relating to the momentary loss of radio communication between the cockpit and the offices set up for air traffic control, in particular during the overflight of French airspace.

“The investigation led to the identification of conduct that does not comply with the procedures in force by the commander both during the flight and once landed.”

It is, however, necessary to take a step back and retrace the facts in detail, from April 30 to today, when the news was made known. During the moments of silence in the cockpit, the first officer of the flight was legitimately dozed off, as required by the “controlled rest” protocol, according to which a pilot can fall asleep at an agreed time if the colleague is awake.

To make sure that at least one pilot is awake while the other is asleep, there is a coded procedure. Flight attendants must call the pilot in command via the internal intercom repeatedly every few minutes to check that he is actually awake and that everything is proceeding as usual. From 9/11 onwards, the pilots are in fact “armored” in the cabin for safety reasons.

In its internal investigation, ITA asked the commander if he had asked the flight attendants not to call the intercom too often so as not to wake the sleeping first officer and if, by chance, in these moments of silence, he had been the victim of a sudden shock of sleep himself. The commander, for his part, denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he remained vigilant at all times and did not respond to the French radar centers due to an on-board failure in the communication systems.

Such a failure was, however, not found in the functional tests conducted in the following days by the technicians of an independent (German) external company to check if there really had been a failure. In fact, no technical failure was found of any kind.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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