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FAA revokes licenses of wayward pilots

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that it has revoked the commercial flight licenses of two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot their destination by 150 miles while flying from San Diego to Minnesota last week.

Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Richard Cole of Salem, Ore., told investigators they became distracted by a “heated” conversation over airline policy and thus lost their “situational awareness’’ during the flight Wednesday night.

Cheney, who was captain on Northwest Flight 188 that day, and Cole, the first officer, also blamed the lapse on the fact that they were working on their personal laptop computers in the cockpit, officials said.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft at 5:56 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, as the jetliner with 147 passengers aboard was cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Just more than an hour later, the plane passed over its destination, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and continued heading northeast.

Communications between the crew and the ground resumed at 8:14 p.m. Central Daylight Time, after a flight attendant got the pilots’ attention over the plane’s intercom system. They then turned the airliner around and landed safely at their scheduled destination.

The license revocations were based on violations of “a number of” violations, including failure to comply with air-traffic control instructions and clearances, and “operating carelessly and recklessly,” according to an FAA statement.

The incident had no effect on operations at Lindbergh Field, airport spokesman Steve Shultz said.