Nothing like a good power nap to freshen you up for that landing after the long flight from San Diego. What other explanation is there when there’s 78 minutes of radio silence? It’s also not like overshooting an airport at Bemidji or Brainerd, which are both in Minnesota and less than 100 miles apart. Minneapolis is one of the 20 largest airports in the country. It’s also headquarters for Northwest Airlines which should be very handy when the pilots meet with the upper management group.
It’s not impossible to miss a ‘hand-off’ frequency when changing sectors within the air traffic control system. I’ve done this myself when punching in the wrong number. This could happen if you were distracted (or alleged dozing off). If you aren’t asleep, but suddenly realize no one has called you for a while and you keep hearing other airplanes talking, but never hear the ground talking…then you may be on to something. The Enroute chart has available frequencies that can be used to call in your general vicinity until you find someone on the ground. They’ll provide the right frequency for sector and altitude.
One of the NW188 pilots emphatically claims they were embroiled in an argument. That’s a long argument causing them to miss the airport by 150 miles and a risk of possibly being intercepted by F-16’s. It’s possible. Either way, it will be a very interesting discussion with the NTSB. Northwest Airlines must be thrilled.