Instead, Northwest Flight 188 was well on its way to being halfway across Wisconsin on Oct. 21 before the pilots got their act together, broke more than an hour of radio silence, and turned their jet around. The military says fighter jets were ready to intercept the flight, but they didn't hear from air traffic controllers until after the pilots were back on the radio.
That, as they say, was not standard operating procedure.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said air traffic controllers should report to the Domestic Events Network at the North American Aerospace Defense Command 5-10 minutes after losing contact with a plane.
The Domestic Events Network was set up following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to track when an aircraft deviates from its path or otherwise exhibits suspicious behavior.
The FAA plans to improve air traffic controller training to make sure an incident like Northwest Flight 188 on Oct. 21 doesn't happen again, Babbitt said. In that case, NORAD was told of the incident 69 minutes after air traffic controllers had initially lost contact with the pilots.
"We could've done better," Babbitt said during the news conference. "We should have been and could have been more agile."