‘Unconscious’ pilot flies from Port Augusta to Adelaide
A trainee pilot on an empty stomach has taken drowsy driving to new heights after falling unconscious for more than half an hour during a solo trip to Adelaide.
Miraculously the unconscious man, who was meant to be steering the Diamond DA 40 to Parafield Airport, survived the ordeal as the aircraft flew from Port Augusta on autopilot on March 9.
An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report detailing the incident says the pilot passed out at an altitude of 5500ft - and did not eat breakfast before takeoff.
"About 40 minutes into the flight, the pilot began to feel a headache in his forehead and engaged the autopilot," the report says.
"Shortly after, the pilot became unconscious."
The report says the pilot "suffered from a restless night of sleep" before the trip, "was recovering from a mild cold" and "did not consume any breakfast prior to departing from Parafield to Port Augusta".
A short time later, the Diamond DA 40 entered Class C airspace and Air Traffic Control tried to contact the pilot without success.
A nearby Diamond DA 42 was able to make visual contact with the DA 40 about 10 minutes later and reported the pilot had regained consciousness.
"At this point, the aircraft was over water, 46km south-south-west of Adelaide," the report says.
"Radio contact was subsequently established and ATC assisted the pilot in returning the aircraft to Parafield while under escort by the DA 42.
"It is estimated that the pilot was unconscious for approximately 40 minutes."
The pilot said a Gatorade, some water and a chocolate bar was all he drank and ate during the Port Augusta stopover.
The close call has prompted the aircraft operator - an Adelaide flight school - to enforce strict new rules surrounding solo flights.
The school has told the ATSB that "students will be required to include in their flight authorisation form their hours of sleep in the previous 24 and 48 hours, the time of when their last meal was consumed and the type of meal".