Ethiopian Airlines Pilots Allegedly Fall Asleep Mid-Flight, Miss Landing

You shouldn’t fly over your destination airport at 37,000 feet.

byVictoria Scott|
Culture photo
Alan Wilson via, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

It's not an unheard-of occurrence, but it's still not my favorite thing to hear as a commercial airline passenger. According to the Aviation Herald, the entire crew of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET-343 has been accused of falling asleep after going radio-silent and missing their destination airport entirely. This happened during an early-morning flight over eastern Africa on Monday.

The flight was on a Boeing 737-800 from Khartoum, Sudan (KRT) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) on a red-eye schedule with take-off at 3:27 am local time in Sudan. As it approached KRT, it stayed at cruising altitude, despite banking to fly over the runway it was intended to land on. The plane flew over the airport still at 37,000 feet as air-traffic control tried in vain to contact the crew. The 737 continued flying until autopilot disconnected and the warning alarm went off, at which point the pilots reportedly woke up and re-established contact with ATC. The pilots took back manual control and went around ADD, lining up for a successful—and somehow still on-time—landing. The above ADS-B log from FlightAware shows the plane's path directly over the runway at cruising altitude, and the subsequent repositioning to actually land.


Ethiopian Airlines released a statement acknowledging the incident, stating the crew was "removed from operation" pending an investigation, but stopped short of saying that the pilots were definitely asleep. Still, the plane itself was back in the air flying another route within two and a half hours, so it's hard to believe it was a mechanical failure of some kind. This likely leaves pilot error as the cause; and a review of the cockpit recorder for any snoring will likely allow for a more definitive answer.

An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed in March 2019, killing all 157 people onboard. The African airline's position since day one has been that a factory flaw with the Boeing 737 Max (not the same plane involved in the recent incident) is to blame for the deadly crash, despite authorities claiming a number of other factors are also to blame.

Pilots falling asleep on the flight deck is usually not a common occurrence, but this is the second story I've reported on about pilots falling asleep mid-air in just two months. And as pilot shortages get ever-more-dire and existing crews work to the point of exhaustion, it's likely there will be more stories like this without serious changes from airlines or aviation agencies.

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