Yes, it did really happen. Someone in my office filed a non provisional patent application without the drawings. I won't name names.
This person came to me for help. So what did I do?
File a petition, of course.
When you forget to file something important, like a drawing, you receive a Notice of Omitted Item(s) from the USPTO. The Notice usually spells out three options for you:
1. File whatever you forgot to file the first time and receive a new filing date;
2. Forget about the stuff you forgot to file and leave your application as filed;
3. Keep the filing date and: a) argue that you did indeed file everything and it's really the USPTO's fault that there are missing item(s); or b) file whatever you forgot to file and argue that it was already incorporated by reference.
Luckily for me, I had the option of going with Choice 3(b) (keep the filing date, file the drawings, and argue it was already incorporated by reference). First thing I had to check was whether there were drawings filed for the provisional application that was referenced in the non provisional application. The answer was yes. The drawings for the non provisional application were essentially the same as the ones already included in the provisional.
If the drawings in the non provisional patent application and the provisional application were different, I might have needed to be more creative with the arguments. But for this instance, I was able to simply point out that figures in the non provisional patent application were the same as the provisional application, except that they were annotated.
Dodged a bullet on this one.