Delta Airlines' 'ghost flight' over Greece sparks panic

By Kate Schneider of

It was just a few hours after EgyptAir flight MS804 vanished from radar, later discovered to have crashed into the Mediterranean Sea killing 66 people.

Air traffic controllers around the world were on high alert, so when Delta Airlines flight DL8957 from Germany to Kuwait strayed into Greek airspace over the Mediterranean Sea around 7.10pm, they jumped into action.

The Athens-based controllers issued repeated - and frantic - requests for the pilots to identify themselves but were met with silence. Due to hijack fears, the incident was immediately brought to the attention of the country's Ministry of Defence by the Greek Civil Aviation authority.

With no idea what was happening on board, two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the "ghost flight", which was at this point nearing Santorini. This was standard military protocol.

The F-16 pilots tried to see what was happening inside the plane, reporting that the Delta pilots appeared to be in their seats but were possibly asleep.

One of the fighter jets even flew in front of the Boeing passenger plane and used light signals in a desperate attempt to rouse them, but there was still no response.

It was only when shocked passengers alerted flight attendants to the fighter jets that surrounded the plane, that the pilots were roused as the crew banged on the cockpit door. They then contacted Greek authorities. By then, it had been nearly an hour without any contact.

A Delta Airlines spokesman told the Daily Star: "While transiting to Greek airspace, the flight crew of Delta flight 8957, a charter operation from Hahn, Germany to Kuwait, was unable to establish radio communications with Greek air traffic control for a short period.

"This occurred during a hand-off between air traffic control agencies and communications were expeditiously re-established. At no point did the Boeing 767-400ER leave its planned route of flight." has contacted Delta for further comment.


The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has identified 12 accidents and 64 near misses over the last 10 years in which fatigue was considered relevant. There were two deaths as a result of these accidents.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is rolling our new rules around pilot fatigue which factor in the impact of flying through multiple time zones. Airlines have until 2017 to develop new systems.

Meanwhile, a 2013 survey of UK airline pilots found that more than half have fallen asleep in the cockpit and a third have woken up to find their co-pilot asleep.


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