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FAA Slow to Warn Military of Wayward Plane

The Federal Aviation Administration took too long to notify the military that they had lost contact with a Northwest flight that eventually ended up overshooting its destination by 150 miles, according to a Wall Street Journal report Thursday.

The Minneapolis-bound flight was out of radio contact with air traffic controllers for over 90 minutes before communication was reestablished. The pilots, who have since had their , told investigators they simply lost track of time while working on their laptop computers.

But the pilots may not have been the only ones violating procedure. According to officials familiar with internal reviews into the matter, air traffic controllers should have notified the military within 10 minutes of losing contact with the flight, in the event of a possible hijacking.

Some officials involved in the reviews said at least 40 minutes elapsed before the military was notified, according to the report. Another indicated the time lag was substantially longer.

Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., who commands the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told the Journal he was displeased with the breakdown in communications.

In a statement to the Journal, FAA administrator Randy Babbit acknowledged the controllers "should have notified [the military] more quickly." However, the lack of outward signs of a hijacking - the plane stayed on course and transmitted no distress signals - may have contributed to the delay.

The FAA is conducting an internal review along with several other government agencies.

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