Nightly News | November 16, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Back now with a story about a pilot on a Delta flight who needed to use the lavatory. Nothing wrong with that. But he didn't know that the lock would jam and didn't know that would lead to a huge misunderstanding in midair and eventually lead to a situation just shy of an emergency landing because air traffic controllers here in New York City feared there might be a hijacking or worse in progress. NBC 's Tom Costello picks up the story.
TOM COSTELLO reporting: It was nighttime in New York airspace when it happened. Chautauqua Flight 6132, flying as Delta connection from Asheville , North Carolina , to LaGuardia , was at 10,000 feet when the co-pilot radioed controllers of a potential problem.
Unidentified First Officer: The captain has disappeared in the back and I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit right now and I've got to deal with the situation.
COSTELLO: The pilot had gone to the rear of the small Embraer regional jet to use the lavatory, but while inside the door jammed. A passenger tried to help free the pilot, then went to the cockpit to tell a suspicious co-pilot what was happening.
First Officer: What I'm being told is he's stuck in the lav, and someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit and I'm not about to let him in.
COSTELLO: Meanwhile, air traffic controllers put fighter jets on standby. Listening in, another pilot offered a piece of advice.
Unidentified Pilot #1: You guys ought to declare an emergency and just get on the ground.
COSTELLO: NBC News aviation expert, former Captain John Cox , says it was reasonable for the first officer to fear a hijacker may be trying to talk his way into the cockpit.
Mr. JOHN COX (Aviation Safety Consultant): Since 9/11 the doors are hardened, the locks are hardened. It would be virtually impossible for somebody to just, using their body, to get into the flight deck . And it was designed that way specifically to prevent that.
COSTELLO: Finally, the flight attendant who was in the cockpit as a security procedure when the pilot is out, left the cockpit and freed the pilot. The pilot then radioed controllers.
Unidentified Pilot #2: I had to fight my way out of it with my body to get the door open. There is no issue, no threat.
COSTELLO: Once on the ground, police and FBI quickly determined it was all an embarrassing misunderstanding. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.