Delta Pilots Fall Asleep Over Mediterranean, F-16’s Scrambled Shortly After Loss of Egypt Air 804 – [CORRECTION has been posted!]

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EDIT: Correction can be found HERE. Crew was  NOT  asleep but communication was lost for ~30 minutes between the flight and air traffic controllers. 

 A Guest Post by John @laptoptravel

Delta Boeing 767-400

The tragic loss of EgyptAir’s Flight 804 is still fresh on the minds of the world, and especially the travel industry.  Without any definitive answers we are left to wonder what caused the loss of so many lives. Within a few hours of the disappearance of MS804, a Delta Air Lines jet was also streaking across the skies above the Mediterranean Sea; Delta flight 8957 (a Boeing 767-400 charter flight from Frankfurt Hahn to Kuwait.)

Air traffic controllers around the world were on a heightened alert status and as the DL8957 strayed into Greece’s airspace they took immediate and decisive action to prevent what could have been (in their minds) another potential airline disaster.

Controllers based at the Athens airport continually requested that the Delta aircraft identify itself and asked the pilots to respond; all without a reply.  These please went on for several minutes until, fearing that the plane could possibly be a victim of hijacking, the air traffic controllers contacted the Greek Civil Authority who then informed the Ministry of Defense that they were unable to get any replies from the flight’s pilots.

Delta Flight 8957 Santorini FLight Path Map

According to Greek Air Traffic Controllers Delta            Flight Wandered into Greece’s AirSpace

At that point two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the aircraft; now labeled as a ‘ghost flight’ for its failure to respond and identify. The jets intercepted the flight near the Greek island of Santorini and attempted to ascertain the situation.

Greek F-16 Fighter Jets to Intercept Delta Flight Over Santorini Greek Island Mediterranean

(Source – Wikipedia Commons License)

It is at this point that the fighters reported back to the Ministry of Defense that the pilots were seated in the cabin but appeared to be asleep. Efforts were made by one of the fighter jet’s pilots to fly in front of the Delta aircraft and attempted to awake the pilots using light signals; but with no response.

It was at this time that passengers onboard the Delta flight noticed the two fighter jets tracking the chartered aircraft and they notified the flight attendants. Apparently, getting no response from the on-flight intercom system, the crew banged on the cockpit door which awoken the pilots. After awakening, the pilots did make contact with Greek air controllers, but by then almost an hour had passed since the first attempts to contact the Delta aircraft.

No one should feel safe in this situation; not air traffic controllers, not the crew, the passengers…and certainly not the flying public.  Often crew take naps on long international flights but those are doing alternating between a pilot and a co-pilot.  We still do not know why both officers were asleep at the same time.

Your imagination could run with the many other possible outcomes that could have resulted from such a lapse in judgment or procedure. It begs the question that wouldn’t have the pilots been notified at some point of the loss of Egypt Air’s flight 804?  If they were, shouldn’t they have been extra vigilant in their duties and not allowed themselves to fall asleep in unison?

Delta has promised an internal investigation; which given the timing, is a certainty. Their official statement thus far has been:

While transiting to Greek airspace, the flight crew of Delta flight 8957, a charter operation from Hahn, Germany to Kuwait, was unable to establish radio communications with Greek air traffic control for a short period.

“This occurred during a hand-off between air traffic control agencies and communications were expeditiously re-established. At no point did the Boeing 767-400ER leave its planned route of flight.”

How would you feel if you were on this flight (or another where the flight deck was sleeping?)  Safe Travels – John @ laptoptravel



  1. This is beyond forgiveness we now need cameras in the cockpit and those worn buzzer alarms if a head droops in a nod off
    This is terribly frightening n

  2. Good lord. Certified Delta crew/pilots were both asleep and couldn’t be rousted except by pax banging on the door???
    Why were they both asleep on what, a four or five hour flight?
    This seems almost impossible to believe.
    Two ex-pilots by now, i assume.

  3. This is just crazy. “A short period?” Some reports say the AirAsia flight went down because of a sudden climb that lasted 3 minutes causing a stall. An hour in this situation is ridiculous. And with the events of the Lufthansa pilot committing suicide, shouldn’t there be more than two people in the cock pit? What if one decides to lock out the other just like that flight?

  4. @Alex – I think they were BOTH asleep. There are always 2 on a Delta flight deck at any time. Either pilots or an FA + a pilot.

  5. What worries me is that they’d not long taken off, so why were they asleep so soon after departure? Passengers, crew, airlines and people below put such great trust in these people, something they need to bear if they want to do this job.

  6. From reading the comments, I realize that alot of people perhaps do not understand how automated the modern flight systems have become. Furthermore, the concept of remote controlled flight is probably less understoud, and perhaps even, a sensitive topic.

  7. Numerous media outlets have declared the story of pilots having fallen asleep as false. What source are you pulling these reports from?

  8. My Mercedes has attention assist that alerts me if I start dozing. You think a 200 million dollar jet could add a similar technology.

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