NTSB: Third person in cockpit could have prompted errant flight

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The pilots of a Southwest Airlines flight that landed at the wrong airport might have been distracted by a third person who was with them in the plane's cockpit, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said this week.  

Hersman said during an interview on CNN that aired on Thursday evening that her agency was investigating the possibility that the pilots of Southwest's flight from Chicago's Midway Airport that landed erroneously at a small airport in Missouri were discussing something unrelated to the flight they were operating, which was supposed to be destined for Branson, Mo.

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"We look at all of the factors involved in our investigations, and I think when we talk about two people in the cockpit, three people in the cockpit; very often, we find that another pair of eyes can be helpful," Hersman said. "But in some situations, people may be talking about things that are no pertinent. We need to really understand what happens in any environment. But generally it's about people working together, having good discipline, having good procedures and knowing what their assigned roles and duties are."

Hersman said the NTSB was also considering the possibility that the errant landing was the result of a miscommunication between air traffic controllers and Southwest's pilots.

"We want to make sure those pilots and air traffic controllers are communicating with each other and that things are well understood," she said. "We want to understand how technology can aid pilots in the cockpit and make sure that mistakes like this don't happen."

Southwest has announced that the pilots of its errant flight have been suspended during the investigations.

The airline offered free flight credits to the passengers who were traveling on the airplane.