An unnamed air traffic controller at Knoxville's McGhee Tyson airport fell asleep for five hours during his night shift on Feb. 19, leaving seven aircraft to land without their primary officer. And he did it intentionally.
There aren't any details currently available as to why the man decided that it was a particularly good time for a nap, though the FAA has—more than six weeks later—finally fired him for it. And while the five hours of radio silence in Knoxville vastly overshadows the 45 minutes or so ATC went quiet at Reagan National recently, at least this time another controller was on hand to help bring in the seven planes safely.
The FAA is apparently conducting a nationwide review of staffing during midnight shifts, since clearly—with two harrowing incidents in about a month—something in the system is broken.
Again, pushing tin is one of the hardest jobs there is; the stress and the stakes couldn't be higher. But an occasional lapse in judgment, while having potentially terrifying results, is at least somewhat understandable. Deciding that you're going to catch up on some shuteye for five hours when hundreds of lives depend on your mental agility—to say nothing of your consciousness—is downright reprehensible.
However the FAA decides to fix the problem, let's hope they do it before the next plane—and its hundreds of passengers—has to land without a guide. [USA Today]